Discussion: Goodreads and Netgalley are hurting diversity in the book community

The life of any international (see: non-US based) blogger isn’t always easy. We struggle to get physical ARCs (most of us don’t even try), we never get to meet our favorite authors, we rely on our more fortunate friends to get one signed copy that will become our most treasured possession. Some of us struggle to make our posts understandable in a language that isn’t our own just so we can reach more people and get in touch with other readers and bloggers from other countries.

We don’t complain too much because it’s pointless, and it’s not like the doctor forced us to start our blogs.

Now it seems that things are starting to change in this sense, and these past few days there has been a lot of talk about international bloggers, as I’m sure everyone has heard.

Basically what it all comes down to is:

Goodreads is changing its giveaway program, which only US readers will be able to enter, at least for a time. How long this time will be is not as of yet known. Most importantly, the price for authors to host a giveaway will be very high, $119 for a base package and $599 for the premium one.

Netgalley is making it virtually impossible for international readers to request eARCs. We might still be able to “Wish” for them, but anyone who has ever used Netgalley before knows how difficult it is for a wish to be granted (it has personally only happened to me once). As far as I understand, this is Netgalley’s choice, not the publisher’s like it’s always been, thus making it even more difficult for international bloggers to be sent (digital) early editions of books (as if that wasn’t difficult enough before).

Now, I want to talk about both things my own way, but first you should read Laura’s open letter to Netgalley and Goodreads because she’s basically said it all perfectly.

If you’re still reading my post, here’s my two cents (and I won’t be able to cover every nuance of this topic but hey I’m gonna try).

I think what Netgalley and Goodreads are doing is two sides of the same coin, and it all comes down to ultimately hurt minorities and marginalized people and give more privilege to the privileged. Whether they’re doing it on purpose or not is not for me to say, but that’s what we should be all concerned about.

Regarding Goodreads: I think people are focusing a lot on the readers side and not enough on the authors side, but the truth is that readers aren’t going to be too affected by it. After all, Goodreads giveaways are something you have to win against a huge number of people, and that’s not very likely no matter where you live. Chances are you’re never going to win one anyway, and it still sucks that now int’l readers won’t be able to even enter, but that’s ultimately not very influential in the book community itself (let’s be real, those giveaways are random, and chances are someone is going to win a book they’re never going to read anyway, or if they do they’ll never review it: it’s not like everyone who wins a giveaway has their own blog or even reviews on GR itself after all).

No, the real problem here is that indie and marginalized authors won’t be able to afford the giveaway program, and the only authors who will be able to will be the ones with a big name. In fact, this is what I wrote Goodreads in their survey (which I encourage you to also fill out):

Nothing of this new program works unless you live in the United States (as a reader) or you’re already wealthy as an author and can afford to pay a ridiculous amount of money to have your book MAYBE added to a couple of people’s shelves with no guarantee they’ll actually buy it. This will damage marginalized authors who are already struggling as it is in a publishing world where still the majority of big author names are white, male, heterosexual Americans. This program is made to fail from the beginning and it will ultimately be your own loss, but it’s a slap in the face to anyone who tries to make it in this industry, it screams “you’re not welcome here” to everyone who is already made to feel that way every day of their life. This is a huge step in the wrong direction and I’m sorry to see one of my favorite platforms fail so miserably at embracing a community that has time and again proven how good and important diversity is in any given context.

You’re fooling yourself if you don’t think this is that deep. Everything is that deep and where Goodreads might have done some good by finding ways to help promote marginalized authors, they’ve done the complete opposite instead. It only speaks of their privilege that they don’t even realize it.

I understand there have been some problems with people hosting giveaways and not delivering and basically stealing readers’ contact information, but while what GR is doing is certainly a way to fight this phenomenon, it certainly can’t be the only one.

Coming to the second half of this post, what Netgalley is doing is what touches bloggers and readers the most, and the issues are similar to my first point. Granted that it was already difficult to gain access to eARCs depending on where you live and on the publisher, it was still possible as an international reader to request books that weren’t listed as “US-only” (some even used to have Europe-only, UK-only or Australia-only versions).

Basically what Netgalley is telling you to do is to log into your own version (for me it would be the Italian version of it) and read the books listed there. I haven’t ventured in it and I do think that there might be some benefit in reading things that are published in my own language and written in my own country (I am so not updated on Italian literature it’s honestly a shame), but the fact is that this blog is in English and my following isn’t going to be pleased if I start reviewing books in Italian, or if I review books that aren’t translated into English.

(After writing this paragraph I noticed that there isn’t even an Italian version of Netgalley, and the closest thing would be the German one since I live in Germany and happen to be able to read books in that language, but my point stands.)

Face it, you keep up your blog by reviewing ARCs, and by not having access to the most anticipated titles as an international blogger you’re already at a disadvantage, so you rely on small publishing houses to grant your reviewing requests. You might try to create your own niche and review books with a similar theme (for me that would be LGBTQIAP books), but if Netgalley doesn’t even let you request such titles anymore then there’s really no win for you. Physical ARCs are a pipe dream, BooksForTrade is pretty much US-only, and you’re gonna have to buy all the books yourself after their early copies have already been reviewed by US reviewers.

Basically, US reviewers will get all the traffic that int’l bloggers’ ARCs reviews used to get, and reviewing as an international reader will be even more difficult and you’ll always be behind and it’s going to be hard to gain new followers (if you think these are petty reasons you’ve probably never tried to start your own blog).

I am rambling but I want to make two more points clear:

○ As always, marginalized reviewers (and ultimately all marginalized readers) will be hurt by Netgalley’s decision. Whether you think that literature is universal or not, the blogging community as a whole will lose massively by missing out on international readers’ point of views. 

○ Much can be said about what the American book industry can do better, but the truth is that there are some themes that many international readers won’t get to read in books published in their own countries, especially readers living in non-English speaking countries. Taking my own country as example, there is absolutely no talk about mental illness, much less books with a proper and sensitive portrayal and representation of mentally ill characters (unless you’re looking for harmful tropes and stereotypes). The same can be said for LGBTQ+ representation. If I want to see LGBTQ+ characters, I mostly have to read books published in America. I literally have friends in this community who are only able to see themselves represented because they’re able to read in English but who would be in trouble for writing or reading a book with LGBTQ+ characters in their own country. And not to say that a LGBTQ+ American reviewer isn’t also marginalized because they OBVIOUSLY are, but to get “diversity within diversity“, so to speak, you probably want to read the opinion of BOTH a white cis gay male living in San Francisco AND the opinion of a marginalized POC teen from a country where gay people are literally and legally killed by the government (and you tell me which of these two voices should be prioritized, AKA who deserves that Netgalley ARC more because it’s much less likely that they’ll be able to afford the published version of the book). These are two extreme examples and please don’t hate me if you’re a white cis gay guy living in San Francisco reading this, I hope you’ll understand my point without me having to write a bigass disclaimer.

So you see, if you think this is only about international readers being butthurt and jealous of US readers, you’re quite wrong and you don’t really understand how deep these issues go. I will also not tolerate any talk of legal issues* regarding giving eARCs to int’l bloggers, because publishers have been doing it without problems and it’s only Netgalley (which is only the platform where this puslisher/reviewer exchange happens) that is changing its policy, not the publishers, and don’t come tell me publishers have been doing something illegal all these years.                           *except if you’re like a lawyer or something

To conclude, I ask you that you raise our voices, ESPECIALLY if you’re an US blogger and especially if you have a big following. Share our posts, talk about what’s going on, use your privilege not to speak above us but to make sure Netgalley and Goodreads (or at least other reviewers) hear us.

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