Q&A: Patrick Brown, community manager at Goodreads
As a preview of this year’s sold-out BookNet Canada Technology Forum, taking place in Toronto on March 24, Q&Q caught up with Patrick Brown, community manager at Goodreads. Brown will present a session on Thursday morning called “Reading Is Social: Building Communities of Readers.”
Q&Q: How many users and reviews are on Goodreads?
PB: There are currently 4.77 million users on Goodreads. Those members have added over 150 million books to their shelves and written more than 10 million text reviews.
Q&Q: Which features have been most popular with Goodreads users?
PB: Aside from the basic features — being able to show off what you are reading and see what your friends have read — posting a progress update (that is, saying what page you are on in a book and adding a little note or a quote from the text) has really taken off. We’re getting thousands of those updates per day. It’s a great way to make the actual reading of the book a more social experience. We also get over 20,000 people each day entering giveaways for free books. And many of our most avid users have really loved the cataloging enhancements we’ve made. You can now track series of books (like the Harry Potter books or The Wheel of Time).
Q&Q: What have been some of the biggest developments for Goodreads over the past few years?
PB: I’d say the biggest development has simply been growth. When I started here a year ago, we had roughly 3.2 million members, and we’re now over 4.7 million. We’ve also doubled the number of employees in the past year.
The author program has also grown to over 18,000 authors — including huge best-selling authors like James Patterson, Richelle Mead, Audrey Niffenegger, and Neil Gaiman. I’m in charge of the author program, and having an author like Margaret Atwood host a discussion on our site was really a big deal for us.
Q&Q: What do you have in the works? Any plans to get into the bookselling business?
PB: We aren’t likely to get into the bookselling business, but we do have quite a bit in store. We’ve just acquired a company called Discovereads that specializes in Netflix-level algorithmic book recommendations. In other words, we’ll soon have a feature that will recommend books to you based on the books you’ve read in the past. This feature has been one of the most-requested by our members, so we are very excited to roll that out. Additionally, we recently launched the 2011 Reading Challenge, a feature that lets you challenge yourself to read a certain number of books. It’s been hugely popular (77,000 people are participating).
Q&Q: What are some of the more successful or popular ways that publishers, authors, booksellers, and libraries are using the site?
PB: Giveaways are probably our most popular promotional tool. Our users love them, and publishers get their books into the hands of readers, who in turn review the books and help generate buzz around the titles.
We also offer a lot of opportunities for authors to interact with readers, and many publishers have encouraged their authors to take an active role on the site — claiming their profiles, reviewing books, syncing their blogs, and participating in featured author groups and live video chats. In terms of bookstores and libraries, we allow our users to customize the links on their book pages to take them to the bookstore or library of their choice. Additionally, quite a few libraries and schools have begun using Goodreads discussion groups to track their summer reading programs or just to provide a discussion board for their patrons.
Q&Q: How has Goodreads distinguished itself from competitors like LibraryThing?
PB: At this point, I believe we are roughly four times as large as LibraryThing (in terms of members), and according to the analytics site, Alexa, we get roughly twice as much traffic as LibraryThing and Shelfari combined. We’ve also focused squarely on bringing social to the foreground. LibraryThing includes paid options that allow you to wall off your library from the rest of the Web. While we take privacy matters very seriously, we encourage our users to share what they are reading, as that’s what makes the site so valuable.
Q&Q: Was there any user backlash when Goodreads opened its API (which allows third-party developers to access its data). What’s the response been like? Who’s using it?
PB: There really hasn’t been any backlash. Our members can opt out of having their reviews included in the API, if they like. Many of our users get excited to see their reviews on sites like Powells.com. Additionally, I think people recognize that sharing data opens up many more possibilities for everyone. And our partner sites have loved it. We are currently syndicating our reviews to e-commerce sites like Powells, Google Books, the SonyReader store, Blio, Alibris, and more. We also have our reviews on the library catalogue site Worldcat.org. In addition to review syndication, Edelweiss — Above the Treeline’s online publisher catalogue — has a “Goodreads Buzz Meter” that shows how much interest there is in an upcoming title based on how many ratings it has on Goodreads.