February 19, 2013

Goodreads bans sexual roleplay because, of course, there was sexual roleplay on Goodreads


I always knew there was something salacious about the curve of that g.

Goodreads took steps earlier this month to limit adult content on their site, and to ban sexual roleplay entirely. That’s right: Goodreads, a site where you (and we) list the books you’ve read or would like to read, a site with a drab brown color scheme, a site that is basically a spreadsheet full of ISBNs, Goodreads, the least sexy site on the internet, had so much sexual roleplay going on that they took action to ban it. It’s all a bit shocking until you remember the main user base for Goodreads: human beings.

The story seems to have started back on January 29th, when Stop the Good Reads Bullies posted a strange sort of teaser post by a Carroll Bryant, followed within the week by Bryant’s own post, titled “Goodreads: Or Good Pedophelia?” Did you hear a growling movie trailer voice-over in your head when you read that title, or is it just me?

Bryant, it should be noted, is a YA author who has been banned from Goodreads himself for some pretty sordid behavior. Also, he has a tendency to write long vituperative blog posts entirely in red text.

In the post, Bryant illustrates, with many screencaps, the explicit material in some Goodreads groups, some seemingly involving minors. He follows it with much rhetorical wailing and gnashing of teeth, but his point is sound; Goodreads, like any public message board, would do well to protect its younger users from potentially harmful and certainly disturbing contact with some of these older members.

And so, the day of Bryant’s post, Goodreads updated their guidelines to say, in part,

“Romance is permitted in role-play games, but pornographic content and explicitly sexual content or scenarios are not permitted. We’ve made the decision that this is not appropriate for our site.”

After all, if people want to read about heaving bosoms and uncontrolled tumescence, that’s what books are for.

You might well ask how roleplay, romantic or otherwise, even works on Goodreads. The answer is slowly, sentence by sentence, on a message board. It feels like 2002 in there. In case it’s not clear, I love Goodreads and the intensity of its community. I also love that they stepped away from using Amazon’s API, and that they let users decided where they’d like buy buttons to point them, if they do decide to purchase a book. And their community manager Patrick Brown is a swell guy.

Of course, if you just discovered the six-year-old site, as the Times did early last week, maybe the nostalgia of message boards and all the rest will be lost on you. Lists of books on the internet, how new and wondrous! As Ron Charles joked on twitter: “Next week the Times discovers an online bookseller called ‘Amazon.'”



Dustin Kurtz is the marketing manager of Melville House, and a former bookseller.