Πέμπτη, Φεβρουαρίου 14, 2013
Lori Hettler is a passionate reader, tearing through about 80 books a year. But as a resident of a Pennsylvania town and with a preference for fiction from small publishers, she can have trouble finding new books to feed her habit.
She tried to start a book club, but there weren’t enough takers. For years she made a weekly trip to browse a bookstore 40 minutes away in a Scranton suburb.
But then she found a solution to her problem: Goodreads.com, a social media site for finding and sharing titles that has 15 million members, is exploding in popularity and rivaling Amazon.com as a platform for promoting new books.
The site allows passionate readers to share what they are reading, rate books they have already read and list what they are considering next. They can do this publicly or among only a self-selected network of online friends. The site is also host to roughly 20,000 organically occurring online book clubs for every preference — from people interested in only Proust to those who prefer history and Tudor-period fiction. There are 314 clubs for paranormal romance fans alone.
Goodreads and smaller similar sites are addressing what publishers call the “discoverability” problem: How do you guide consumers to books they might want to read? The digital age has created online retail sites that are overflowing with new books, leaving readers awash in unknown titles.
At the same time the number of bookstores has shrunk considerably, depriving customers of the ability to browse or ask staff members for guidance.
For a long time Amazon, the largest online bookseller, dominated the digital discovery zone through its book reviews, recommendations and displays on its home page. But Amazon has lost some trust among readers recently amid concerns that its reviews and recommendations can contain hidden agendas.
The theory behind Goodreads and its two main — albeit much smaller — competitors, Shelfari and LibraryThing, is that people will put more faith in book recommendations from a social network they build themselves. Amazon was convinced enough by the concept that it bought Shelfari in 2008. It also owns a portion of LibraryThing as a result of purchasing companies that already owned a stake in the site.
Goodreads members represent a small portion of all book buyers, and it is not immune from some of the politicking that goes on elsewhere — authors are not prevented from reviewing their own books, for instance. But advocates consider this acceptable because readers can choose their own reviewers.
“Because Goodreads is not a publisher or retailer, people feel that the information is not getting manipulated,” said Amanda Close, who runs digital marketplace development for Random House. “People trust them because they are so crowd-sourced and their members are fanatics. You can’t buy a five-star review there.”
Ms. Hettler, who trains employees at a T. J. Maxx warehouse, started her own group on Goodreads, the Next Best Book Club, which now has more than 10,000 members. She has become so well known that not only does she never run out of book recommendations, but she is also courted directly by small publishers like Graywolf Press and Artistically Declined to promote their authors.
“I am trying to use my platform to spotlight the underdog,” she said. “My reach is limited, but I know what will speak to my audience, and when we pitch a book, we clearly see an uptick in people who say they are going to read it.”
Goodreads.com was founded by Otis Chandler, grandson of the last family owner of The Los Angeles Times, and the woman he later married, Elizabeth Khuri Chandler. They met after graduating from Stanford University.
Trained as an engineer, Mr. Chandler was always interested in starting his own social media company, and his first job included working on a dating site. Ms. Chandler trained as a dancer and worked as a writer and editor. But what they shared was a passionate love of books, and they quickly realized that books bound others as well.
“Books are one of the strongest social objects that exist,” Mr. Chandler said in an interview, “so lots of people are innately willing to talk about and share them.”
The couple began creating Goodreads in 2006 from Mr. Chandler’s apartment, and it made its debut in 2007. By 2009 they were doing well enough to raise $2 million in venture capital and then open offices in San Francisco. As the site grew, they added features: a recommendation engine, author video chats, book giveaways and a newsletter that fostered a sense of community.
Slowly the site became the largest source of independent reviews on the Web, with 21 million and counting.
The collective power of the membership model began to be felt across publishing as groups like Ms. Hettler’s discovered books and created buzz for them. One example is “Wool,” a 2011 self-published sci-fi series by Hugh Howey that has been optioned by 20th Century Fox. In 2011 USA Today began featuring Goodreads reviews on its Web site.
Goodreads has been particularly crucial for self-published authors, many of whom would never have had success without it. But even authors with publishers are setting up their own Web pages on Goodreads to promote future books — as essential as Twitter or Facebook — and to connect with readers while not on tour.
Lisa See, whose 2005 novel, “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan,” made it to The New York Times extended best-seller list, has been using Goodreads since 2009. “It is a way to meet your readers and hope they become your advocates and spread the elusive word-of-mouth in places you are not going and are off the book-tour route,” she said.
Leah Wasielewski, vice president for marketing at HarperCollins, says that from a publisher’s perspective, Goodreads has earned its bona fides as a must stop for promotion. “For a book-centric Web site,” she said, “they are clearly the top leader.”
Mr. Chandler said that Goodreads earned most of its income by selling promotion packages to publishers. It also offers ad space, tailored to reach readers most likely to be interested in a certain book, and sells sophisticated data mining to marketers.
“Getting real-time feedback in sales trends is the kind of data publishers dream of,” said Rachel Chou, chief marketing officer for Open Road, a new publishing house. Especially enticing, she said, are readers who have put a book in the site’s “to read” pile.
Recently, she said, Open Road was promoting its “Eighty Days” erotic trilogy, whose content was more hard-core than the enormous best seller “Fifty Shades of Grey.” First Goodreads helped the publisher place ads to reach all its readers in hard-core erotic book clubs. Then, when some had placed the book in their “to read” pile, Open Road was able to offer those readers a discount.
“With data like that you can really move the needle,” Ms. Chou said.