I don’t normally write posts like this because I prefer to make people laugh and find joy in reading and normal everyday life. However, over the past several weeks, the actions of a company I once admired have forced me to come out against them. They are just another profit-driven company that manipulates a specific consumer base to make more money and that company is Book Riot. I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was.
I found Book Riot around 2015 when I was on a personal journey to really understand who I was. This seems like one of those weird millennial phases that end up being viral hit pieces for 24 hours on Twitter, but it’s true in my case. I wanted to discover if I was, among many other things, still a reader, someone who loved reading, and learning more about the world. A quick Facebook search found Book Riot.
Two years ago they introduced their Insiders program. I was terrified to join the Slack community because I knew they wouldn’t like me. Not thought. KNEW. I was very convinced of this. However, I heard another ad on a Book Riot podcast for it and I didn’t want to have any regrets so I joined. While there, I discovered a lot about myself, things not even my own family know about me if I’m being honest. I suppose you could say I found “my people”. There’s several people there I’ve met in person, a few I want to visit with this year, and many I hope to be friends with for the rest of my life. Insiders became a community that we built ourselves and had very little to do with Book Riot as a company other than that’s how we found each other. There were times I was challenged against beliefs I thought were okay and right that actually weren’t. I was recommended books that were very hard to read and process about racism, LGBTQ+ rights, women, etc. We had some tough conversations over the years. Several people found their voice and started donating to causes and became activists themselves. Many of us found support where we felt alone. This is not a small thing and I’m very grateful that, at the end of this terrible story, we’ve created our own community.
Several staff members, moderators, and contributors were involved in the community and talked to us a lot. They felt more like friends than moderators. There were times they came to us with their personal stories and issues even. Maybe this is very naive on my part, but there were people on staff I thought were truly my friends that have disappointed me.
Over time, a lot of the benefits of the Epic level of Insiders started to go away. Discounts were offered for longer spans of time and were smaller than initially. This was something that didn’t bother me since I stopped using them a long time ago. Chats were very infrequent and sometimes cancelled or moved around. Even the database of new release books that’s mentioned several times in advertisements for Insiders had features that stopped working that were never addressed to this day from what I’ve heard. They even started adding a lot more people; a lot more than the original tiny community originally advertised. All of this didn’t matter to me because of the community of people that were there.
I want to take a moment to remind people what the Book Riot website states about itself before I continue. You can see the full list on their about page, but a few of the items that go against their new policy:
- “Book Riot is dedicated to the idea that writing about books and reading should be just as diverse as books and readers are.”
- “We riot as a team…are leaders…(and) practice charity.”
- “We are non-traditional”
Unfortunately, this has turned out to be a progressive false front they put up about themselves to get more website traffic which turns into ad spend which turns into profits for them from advertisers. They rolled out a anti-marginalized people policy near the end of their business day that made the Insiders Slack an unsafe place for the very people giving them money to be there. It was the business equivalent of “reverse racism” and victim blaming by not allowing any generalizations or allow marginalized people to express how they were feeling about something that was going on. It also was so strict that not even activists could talk about the causes that they supported. It was shocking. We had no warning of it and the announcement was written like they had just given us cotton candy and told us to go play with our toys.
They used men and Republicans as examples as the kind of people they were trying to protect through respectability policing. However, they did allow that kind of speech in “private” channels only because the moderators couldn’t police those themselves. In fact, every single one of the staff members I engaged with had participated in the examples given to us; one of them as recently as the day before the policy was introduced in regards to the recent stories on Bezos. This proves that it was not something they spent a lot of time considering since Book Riot staff was engaged in behavior that goes against this supposed new direction the company is going in.
Dozens of us questioned the motivations of such a policy since it was so clearly the opposite of what they believed. And every time Book Riot clarified, we got more legalese mixed with cruelty. The wonderful emmy at Books Beyond Binaries does a much better job going over the guidelines, the things we were told specifically, and the responses from various Book Riot staff members than I’m doing here (including Slack metrics and screenshots of announcements), but what still bother me that we were told include:
- The amount of money you make us is so small that it has nothing to do with our decision.
- This community is not unsafe (after several people said they were made to feel unsafe).
- Conversations from marginalized voices is important, but only in the ways we’re telling you are acceptable.
- Deleting years of their tweets and some social media sites entirely to hide that they ever engaged in this behavior publicly.
I’ve heard hundreds of stories of people who felt unsafe in the Book Riot Insiders community since this happened; many times by staff members or “moderators”. I cannot speak for those people, but I do have a few stories of my own that I’ll share here because I think it’s important.
- I was attacked by a moderator for not liking To Kill a Mockingbird. My point was that I believe the book was extremely dated and that there were many books from people of color that can tell them much better than a white woman from the south. I was ripped apart for probably ten minutes by the Book Riot staff member until I had to log out and cry because she was so brutal.
- I was in a situation where I misspoke in a channel and got piled on by a few former Insider members without being able to clarify in time. I ended up leaving the public channel to take a break because it got too intense. One of the moderators messaged me to see if I was alright. Instead of listening to my feedback on the situation or addressing it with anyone there, she just wanted to make sure they weren’t going to lose my subscription and didn’t reply to me again after I confirmed I wasn’t going to cancel.
- I found out in a public channel from a moderator that my payment was declined one month. This was an extremely embarrassing situation that only happened because my debit card was stolen, but now others thought I couldn’t afford the $10/mo to be there.
- I had a horrible experience with a company that Book Riot supported during Hurricane Harvey and I was seeking advice on how to handle it. Again, a Book Riot contributor told me I was simply wrong, that it couldn’t have been “that bad,” and they looked forward to continuing to work with them.
Long story short (although this is getting extremely long already), I decided to cancel my Insiders subscription that had around a week left and I was immediately booted from the community. This was a tactic they used to silence people who disagreed with the policy along with telling us to stop posting in public channels and use the Insiders email instead. I never heard from the company whether or not I will get a refund as that was an announcement made after I was kicked out of the Slack community. After a few days of announcing the policy, Book Riot announced they were closing the Insiders Slack community. This is not surprising since it was completely dead in there and no one was talking. This is because the community had stood up against what Book Riot now believes and left them behind.
Who knows if I will get my money back, but that’s barely the point. A company, run by people I respected, turned their back on their very own stated goals to police marginalized voices and uphold the people in power that oppress others. So I suppose the obvious question is: Now What?
We’re trying to figure that out. If you’re going to stand up against a company for policing the voices of marginalized people, you need to do something more. I feel like I have to do something. We’re working on getting organized now and I’m very excited about the future of our community. We’re over 100 people strong and we’re hoping we can make a difference in the long term. Personally, I find a lot of joy dreaming up things we can do and causes we can support. In fact, if you support a cause that you want us to look at, let me know. I can’t say anything soon will happen, but we’re a work in progress.
I’m working on reviews for later this week so stay tuned for those. I sincerely hope that anyone who reads this will take some time to look into this and not support them as well. From reading emmy’s extremely detailed and informative post to the righteous rage from my friend Mandy at Off the Beaten Shelf to some Twitter posts from people that are fed up and disappointed, there’s a lot of information out there if you’re interested.
Until next time,