A Colossal Waste of Time

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. 🙂


Writer of crime fiction, psychological drama, and dark humor.

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12 comments on “A Colossal Waste of Time
  1. beatbox32 says:

    Yeah, you’re a hypocrite Matt. But so are the rest of us. Welcome to the human race. 🙂

    It’s a shame that LibraryThing has allowed this to go on so long. As a reader, I love the site. As a budding writer, flaws like this are magnified. I don’t doubt that you’re right when you mention the majority of users are just using the default layout.

    Do you know if their staff has ever addressed the issue?

    • Matthew Iden says:

      Hey Beatbox – I’ll take that as a compliment. 🙂

      LT is a great resource and I don’t want to heap too much abuse on them, but yes, they are doing themselves, readers, and writers a disservice by not addressing the Giveaway abuse issue.

      It was already a known bugaboo when I launched my first Giveaway in November…that’s enough time to create an alternative default listing or at least put more directive language on the page like “Hey, did you know you can sort this list by…?” But as someone who’s been in IT for years (albeit fairly soft), I can’t imagine it’s that hard to re-engineer this list.

      I’m hoping my little post here would bring some attention to the issue…we’ll see. I know the staff works hard over there and want to give them the benefit of the doubt.

  2. Wo3lf says:

    Agreed, just another example of abuse and that’s a pity, but it will always be with us as we all try to get a piece of the pie. I would have thought running the promotion against a time frame instead of copies available would make more sense, especially given the digital nature of what is on offer.

    I don’t have a horse in the race yet, so I can’t say whether I would game the system. I would like to think I won’t, but let’s be honest, you should never say never. I could become desperate or something or feel I’m justified or acting reasonable.

    However, given the system settings of the LT GIveaway, and given that you were prepared to make 500 copies available, I don’t see it as gaming. Look at Amazon’s KDP Select which is based on time and not numbers. Of course, in the present case, setting a number well above what could be viewed as reasonable is gaming the system, even abusing it.

    LIbrarything may have been shortsighted in not curtailing the number of copies you are allowed to give away. At least that way everyone would be on an even playing field.

    This is my take on it, anyway.

    • Matthew Iden says:

      Hi Woelf – I agree with what you’re saying here. I direct much of my ire at LT, since they’re setting the ground rules that open the Giveaway up to abuse and, as you say, tempt us to participate in that abuse. Some might argue that you shouldn’t have to make rules to make people act decently. But the reality is that we need guidelines and limits or one bad apple ruins it all.

  3. yoga-adan says:

    one of many things evolving to be fixed, tweaked, or altered, as the result of the emergence, first, of the writer and ebooks, then the review system, and now this –

    abuses abound, but, just part of the process of democracy hitting the digital airwaves

    but even the wild west long ago, finally had to be tamed with law

    best wishes matthew 😉 keep keeping us up-todate!

    • Matthew Iden says:

      Thanks, Adan! I like your “long” view…this is another example of growing pains as the ebook environment evolves. We’ll see more of the same as time goes along, I’m sure, but hopefully our participation in the community (and vigilance in identifying and stopping abuses) will keep it viable.

  4. char says:

    I haven’t looked into the Library site yet. I’m daunted by everything else still. Your post was informative though, as always. I featured you on my post today and gave you the Illuminating Blogger Award and tagged you with the 7×7 Meme if you care to do it. If you don’t do awards, forgive me. I just like to feature good blogs when I get these awards to lead others toward good reading material.

    • Matthew Iden says:

      Hi Char – Thanks so much! That’s really kind of you. It’s heartening to think I’m giving some value through the blog; I appreciate you thinking of me. I’ll look into the 7×7!

      • char says:

        I guess I told you the wrong 7 thing. It’s the Lucky 7 tag and I’m actually posting the rules for it on tomorrow’s post if you want to see them then.

  5. Ritesh Kala says:

    “There are 11,007,517 copies of 85 books being given away.” This is the first think that caught my eye in the post. This may well be the reason why librarything is not doing anything about it.But, authors need to give more credit to us readers. I am pretty sure that most readers willing to check out the Giveaways page, will be looking through a good part of the list, and enter based on the type of book, genre and what not, and will be entering more than one giveaway there.
    Does it matter being in the first position? Of course. But not so much as to go into a “bidding war” with someone else.
    The last thing I want to say, if an author publicizes that he is giving away 10 million copies of his book, I will in all probability ignore that book as not being upto standard for the author to resort to such a gimmick.

    • Matthew Iden says:

      Hi Ritesh – Thanks for stopping by.

      I agree, readers are smarter than a simple “copy war” gives them credit for. And, considering that this guy has had fewer than 50 people take him up on his 10 million copies, it speaks volumes about how little this kind of brinkmanship impresses readers. I think most readers, experienced in online promotion, look right past such an obvious and ham-handed ploy to grab their attention.

      (Digressing a little, I’m sure his novel description–with thinly veiled insinuations that most readers are probably not mentally equipped to appreciate the author’s genius–didn’t help his numbers.)

      But…the issue remains that this guy is at the very least interfering with the lines of communication between other writers and their potential readers, which is why I wanted to bring some attention to this weirdness. Even if sites like LT won’t step in and stop the abuse, perhaps enough shaming will make other authors stop and think before making choices that screw things up for everyone.

  6. […] 26, 2012 by Matthew Iden 1. Jerks Begone Librarything.com seems to have listened to the complaints about the abuse of their Member Giveaway system. In short, two things conspired to taint the […]

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