In preparation for promoting some upcoming titles, I wanted to check in with the giveaway page on Librarything.com and see if anything had changed since I ran some giveaways of my own back in November and January.
Things have changed all right. Imagine my surprise when I saw this news blurb on the LT homepage:
There are 11,007,517 copies of 85 books being given away.
Drilling a little deeper revealed what I feared what was going on. The first writer on the list was giving 10 million copies of his novel away. The second guy on the list was giving 1 million copies of his short story away. They’d been involved in a “copy war” on the LT Giveaway page. Nothing new, really, but I hadn’t seen numbers like this before.
(A little explanation. The LT Giveaway, while a great tool for authors to reach readers, suffers from a fatal flaw: the default listing of giveaways is by “number remaining,” not any other criteria that might make more sense, like time remaining, descending/ascending order, genre, alphabetical, or–probably the best–random.
What this means in practical terms is that the guy who offers 10 million copies will, realistically, only have to give away a few dozen copies of his book, but he will always be at the top of the list, with the best exposure, for the entire 1-2 months of the giveaway. Goodreads gets around this problem by running four different lists, consisting of the same books, split in different ways.)
What a colossal waste of time, opportunity, and reader good will. Mr. 10 Million tried to deflect some of the criticism with this self-righteous apology at the top of his (2 page) book blurb:
The inordinate number of “review copies available” is simply the result of another member’s abuse of the system, who has been persistently trying to monopolize the top position of the member giveaways by artificial numbers. My apologies.
Please. It takes two to race to the bottom. The responsible way to let Mr. 1 Million’s idiocy be exposed while letting the Giveaway program retain a shred of dignity would be to let him swing in the wind. If you don’t trust readers are intelligent enough to simply scroll past the initial entry and find you at the #2 position, why are you courting them to read your novel?
But I fear the real culprit in this mess is Librarything itself. While I’m sure they operate on a skeleton budget and even thinner staff, the Giveaway has always been open to abuse of this kind, which eliminates the very value it’s trying to give to its members. And the solution is within reach. It simply can’t be that hard to code an alternative default method of displaying the list (and, yes, I know there are ways to filter the list. But let’s not fool ourselves: the default display is always going to be the way the majority of readers view and use the Giveaway page).
What a perversion of a great service connecting writers with potential readers. With the likes of Mr. 10 Million and Mr. 1 Million abusing the system–and Librarything allowing the abuse to continue–however, it will be a serious challenge to use the Giveaway to reach out.
Addendum: I held off on publishing this post because, upon reflection, I had to recognize–quite uncomfortably–that I was guilty of the same kind of manipulation that I’m accusing both Misters Millions. In my own LT Giveaways, I offered 500 copies of my ebook on both my first and second and did it specifically to get to the top of the list. I was supplanted by someone who offered by 600 or 1,000 or something, and I didn’t retaliate by upping the ante, but still…I’m not sure what these guys are doing was any worse than what I did.
And, yet…it is. I’m having trouble putting my finger on it, but there’s a point where the degree to which you’re gaming the system becomes as much as a sin as the fact that you’re gaming it at all. Offering millions of copies of your ebook indicates, I believe, that it’s worthless. That reflects poorly on the rest of us indies and certainly devalues the LT Giveaway.
Am I wrong? Am I a hypocrite? Or am I onto something here?
p.s. I still blame Librarything for allowing the abuse to occur in the first place.