Okay y’all, I’ve tried to write this post approximately 7216496578375294658 times and I think if I keep waiting for it to be perfect I’ll never publish it. So, here’s my emotional puke for you to wade through. First, a few quick and dirty definitions:
- Book Riot: a bookish media site that has built its image on being radically progressive, inclusive, and activist since its inception
- Book Riot Insiders: a tiered subscription program that gives bonus content to subscribers (Short Story, Novel, and Epic) aka BRI
- Slack: a communication tool used by groups to organize online communities much like GroupMe, Discord, and WhatsApp
I had been a BRI Epic subscriber mostly since it began – I had to drop my subscription at one point when I lost my job, but I was back in within five months, as soon as I was able. The perk I was most interested in was the Insiders Slack, a supposedly capped-membership community. It was a haven for me. Bookish, social justice-oriented people all in one place? And that place was online, so I didn’t even have to leave my house or put pants on? HELL YES, I was all for it. Plus, I’d been a Book Riot consumer for a while by then, and I was happy to support anything they did. Book Riot helped me figure out how to get more involved in politics, how to grow from simply saying I supported marginalized communities to actually supporting them, and how to find the voices that needed to be heard. The Slack helped me with that even more, being comprised of a lot of those voices.
Seriously, the community was amazing. And best of all, it was SAFE. I knew if I needed to hop on and rant about an experience of bi erasure, I could. I knew if I was having a panic attack and needed someone to help talk me down, they would. I knew if I was having a depressive episode because of #MeToo news and flashbacks of my own experiences of rape and sexual assault, I had a place to go where I would be cared for. I could rail against whatever was hurting me and no one would try to silence me. The mods and contributors were great, they were in there with us, talking about the same things and facilitating conversations on these topics.
And then. On February 12, a new policy was rolled out by the higher-ups, a policy against generalizations of any group of people – sounds tame on the surface, yeah? But consider that this was a space mostly comprised of historically oppressed identities. Women, BIPOC, LGBTQIQA+, that was the majority of the Insiders. And the examples Book Riot chose as banned phrases under the new policy were “why are men” and “Republicans suck.” Yeah, it didn’t go well.
A large group of us (over 100 in total) pushed back, pointing out that they were basically taking a #NotAll stance with this policy, a stance they had previously been directly in opposition to and had mocked other people and companies for in the past. We admitted that this new policy made us feel unsafe, that we couldn’t speak as freely or about the same things anymore. Instead of doing…well, anything constructive, really, Book Riot mods (all women, even though the CEO is a man) bailed at 5pm on the dot and came back almost first thing the next morning to double down. That became the trend over the next week. We were told that marginalized voices were “allowed” to take those conversations to private channels, which frankly they had no control over because they didn’t use the paid version of Slack. Eventually, we realized they weren’t going to back down and we made a new Slack to foster our own community.
Turns out that was a good idea, because as people were canceling their Insiders subscriptions, which were supposed to be based on pay periods and not active/inactive account status, they started getting immediately booted from the Slack with no notice or warning. As the days went on, it became increasingly obvious that our group had been the backbone of the original Book Riot Slack. Activity plummeted and within a week they announced the closing of the Slack. If you visit the Insiders site now, you’ll see there is no Epic level available.
In those few days, we took a beating from Book Riot and its moderators. We were invalidated and told the space was still safe, even after explaining exactly how we felt unsafe. We were told that our subscription money, representative of the support we gave Book Riot in so many other ways, via podcast downloads, newsletter subscriptions, other paid subscriptions they offered, and affiliate links clicked, wasn’t considered “enough” to be concerned about losing. For some of us, that $10/mo was the splurge we allowed ourselves, and to be told the collective $15k+ we contributed to their pockets was nothing was extremely demoralizing. We were told that the feelings of our oppressors – yes, frequently cis straight white men – were going to suddenly take a frontline priority over the marginalized voices this community was supposed to support.
It was a complete 180 of values and the response to our hurt, confusion, and anger was…really fucking gross, to be perfectly honest. Many of us have expressed the opinion that it feels like a breakup. A breakup with a manipulative, false, abusive partner. We are still working through our emotions and dealing with the damage this has caused us. Luckily, our new Slack community is exactly what we want it to be, and we’re having the time of our lives exploring the possibilities suddenly open to us without Book Riot’s oversight.
I guess what I want readers to take away from this is that Book Riot is not the progressive or liberal bastion of radical reading that it proclaims itself to be. Instead, its values are performative, its higher-ups are unfeeling, and many of its employees are actively abusive toward people who disagree with them. I’m not here for tone policing, respectability politics, or silencing already oppressed identities. I’m not here for giving oppressors an out. So, I no longer support Book Riot in any form – I’ve canceled my Insiders and myTBR accounts, I’ve unsubscribed from the podcasts and newsletters, and I’ve unfollowed employees on social media (the ones who haven’t deleted their accounts, anyway. Make of that what you will). I strongly encourage others to quit supporting them, as well. And if you’d like to share your opinions about this policy with them, feel free to contact them via any of their social media, or the email firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’m not the only person who has chosen to write about this. I’m going to keep adding to this list of linked posts as long as the authors say it’s okay. Please read about everyone’s experiences and feelings, not just me. I’m also linking pay accounts where applicable – please consider compensating these fine folks for their emotional labor.