Independent book stores are closing. Barnes & Noble and Borders are thinking about merging because neither can make enough of a profit on its own. Book sales are down.
Does anyone get the feeling that fewer people are reading books and more people are networking on Facebook and sending Twitter updates? Don’t tell that to the people who gravitate to Goodreads.
Goodreads (www.goodreads.com), which launched in 2006, has attracted over four million members and reveals that millions of people still care about books and sharing literary works with booklovers. It operates as a social networking site for the literati, readers, and authors. The site enable users to recommend books, post reviews, discuss books, join book groups and read interviews with authors.
Everything on the site is free for any user or author. Like other sites, Goodreads survives on advertising revenue.
Goodreads was co-founded in December 2006 by Otis Chandler, an entrepreneur with the right genes to start the site since his grandfather Otis Chandler Sr. served as publisher of the Los Angeles Times from 1960 to 1980. His wife and co-founder Elizabeth Chandler had been an editor at the Los Angeles Sunday Magazine while Otis had been a software engineer before he returned to the family business. In fact, he designed the site until it had 100,000 users, and then had to hire other software developers to expand it.
Goodreads’ mission is to “get people excited about reading,” Chandler said. Just as on Facebook, users set up a page for friends and can recommend a book to their connections. Chandler said books contain “the best ideas and stories of the human race and helping people engage with that content makes us all better people.”
Chandler says that the reading culture is alive and well--it’s the publishing industry that’s fading. If ebooks, news, blogs, tweets, and other social middle are considered, reading is undergoing an explosion. People are as interested in books as in the past, but they’re reading in new ways and experiencing it differently.
Chandler describes GoodReads as a magnet for people who love reading and want to connect to other readers. Most social networks are based on general ties of friendship but Goodreads brings people together who have a passion for one activity: reading books. He says the favorite books that people post on their personal page “are their profile. It’s a site for people who want to meet like-minded people.”
What do readers think of David Kirkpatrick’s non-fiction The Facebook Effect or Jonathan Franzen’s controversial novel Freedom? Goodreads offers a bevy of reviews from interested readers that offer unfettered reactions to books. Groups form around books such as Franzen’s or Kirkpatrick’s.
A quick visit to Goodreads shows a very simple home page consisting of My Books, Find Books, Friends, Explore, and Groups. Visiting the page of Stieg Larsson, the popular Swedish author of the trilogy of mystery novels including The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, reveals countless book groups reading one of Larsson’s works.
For example, hundreds of groups are reading Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, including Bibliomaniacs, the Just for Fun Book Group, and Sharing Stories Society. Deadlines for finishing the novel are posted. Most groups are small with four to 10 members but some have as many as 79 members.
Besides joining reading groups, people spend their time on Goodreads doing a myriad of activities. Some people catalog every book they read and await other people’s reaction to these works. Other users enjoy rating and reviewing books, offering their best advice on what to read and what not to read to friends and strangers. Some participate in the First Reads program, where authors and publishers distribute free copies of their work to generate buzz.
Goodreads generates about 100,000 individual visits a day. Of its four million members, two-thirds are female and one-third men. Most users are 30 years or older, so Generation X is still developing its love of reading.
Not only have readers discovered Goodreads but so have authors. In fact, 15,000 authors have registered on the site. They are interested in interacting with readers. Authors such as James Patterson, Margaret Atwood, and Alexander McCall Smith have hosted interactive conversations with readers.
Chandler actually considers modern technology a boon to reading. He describes ebooks as encouraging a closer relationship between reader and author. Readers have direct access to the author’s words without having to stop at Barnes & Nobles, Borders, or the local bookstore; ebooks promote instant connection.
After only four years, the site has grown rapidly and Chandler sees an expanding future. He envisions adding new features such as news apps for users’ mobile devices. Readers can now read books online and update their progress on reading.
Goodreads, based in Santa Monica, CA, has 11 employees and is hiring. Based on the burgeoning growth of Goodreads, reading and responding to books are as popular activities as ever.
Gary M. Stern is a freelance writer based in New York City.