Goodreads evolution from discovery platform to reader community

Goodreads CEO Otis Chandler on how Goodreads engages its more than 15 million registered users.

Last week, O’Reilly GM and publisher Joe Wikert reviewed Goodreads’ CEO Otis Chandler’s TOC session, in which Chandler presented the results of a recent Goodreads readers survey. One of the interesting pieces from the survey covered the effectiveness of Goodreads reviews. In relation to Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, 58% of surveyed readers said they bought Gone Girl because of Goodreads reviews and 52% said they bought The Night Circus because of Goodreads reviews.

The more interesting bit here, though, might be the sheer number of Goodreads reviews of each book: according to Chandler’s presentation slide, Gone Girl had 34,200 reviews and The Night Circus had 22,000. Compare that to the number of Amazon reviews (as of the time of writing) of 8,557 and 1,996 respectively.

I had an opportunity to sit down with Chandler during the TOC conference to talk about the Goodreads platform and how it has managed to become so engaging with its more than 15 million registered users. Chandler says the platform started with a mission of discovery but has evolved and become its own community:

“I think, first of all, our mission is book discovery. We’re basically in the business of helping people find good books and helping them share those books with friends. That’s something that people innately want to do, so we’ve created a place where you can connect to friends, browse all their bookshelves, find a ton of good books through that, and that was really the genesis of the site was to discover good books through your friends.

“It’s been really fun for me during this wild seven-year ride that I’ve been doing this to see the site evolve. It’s gone from being all about friends to actually becoming a community where people, instead of friending people they actually knew in real life, started meeting each other through the site and joining book clubs together and following other people with those tastes. For instance, there’s a guy named Conrad who lives in Brooklyn, who I don’t know, but I love his taste in books, so I follow him. So, this kind of thing happened where people are connecting to each other and finding good books through each other and that has really worked.

“Lastly, we launched a Netflix-level book recommendation engine last year, which increased book discovery on the site by 60% across the board for the few months following the launch. It’s a really powerful way of finding new books because it’s personalized based on everything you’ve read before.” (At the 0:07 mark.)

You can access Chandlers presentation slides at SlideShare, and you can watch Chandler’s full interview in the following video:

All keynotes and video interviews from TOC NY 2013 can be found on the TOC 2013 YouTube playlist.

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