Goodreads Is Finally Cashing in on Its Devoted Community
The premise of Goodreads is simple, as it has been since the service launched in 2007: Track the books you read, leave ratings and reviews, and network with fellow readers. In practice, though, the platform has grown to be a sprawling literary social network, equal parts Facebook, Yelp, and Reddit. Message boards, recommendations, and listicles have helped created enough space for any bookworm to find their niche.
Not surprisingly, all of that activity has also generated a lot of data on reading habits, and this week, Goodreads began harnessing of that data to sell books. It’s the first time that the platform has directly pushed commerce, and while the move might seem inevitable, it’s proof that Amazon, which owns Goodreads, has wised up to the power of the platform.
iBooks, a Window to the Soul
Goodreads Deals, which launched on Tuesday, emails users when relevant ebooks go on deep discount. (Neil Gaiman’s American Gods for $2.99, for instance.) It’s an opt-in proposition, and isn’t limited to the Kindle; users have their choice of outside e-book retailers, from Google Play to Apple to Barnes and Noble, and even Kobo. The company has worked for years with publishers on giveaways, and the hop from recommendations to promotions is even shorter. Yet, our reading choices are more than a window to our tastes and experiences—they’re an uncommonly honest one, so much so that Goodreads is arguably more honed in to our true selves than any other social-media platform.
The more you read, and the more you track what you read, the more your choices begin to fill in the complex sketch of who you are. There’s a reason why, when we visit people’s homes, we almost always look at their shelves: the spines there are an intimate inventory of their experiences. Yet, before Goodreads, and apps like it, our reading habits were largely private; we put our books inside our purses and bags once we stepped off the subway, kept them close in cafés. For those of us with e-readers, our habits were even more anonymous; book covers are no longer billboards. (You’re welcome, everyone who read Fifty Shades.) That privacy came with a price. Unless you were in a book club, you were likely deprived of discussing your latest read.
Through book-tracking, Goodreads filled that void, creating a space for myriad communities: wannabe critics, competitive readers, lovers of that incredibly specific subgenres you’re not likely to meet up with at your neighborhood book store. (According to Goodreads CEO Otis Chandler, one of the platform’s biggest book clubs focuses specifically on male-male erotica.)
That trackability—that ability to have a quantified self of the mind—proved to be a draw for many of Goodreads’ 50 million users. Sharing a well-lit photo of a sandwich on Insta doesn’t say much except whether you prefer white or wheat; posting about our reading choices allows people to see the worlds we conjure up in our quiet moments. Is it oversharing? Maybe, but at least we’re reading, right?
In fact, where I’m selective in my Facebook posting, I’m far more active on Goodreads, just for the sake of connecting with my fellow book nerds. So, in the interest of transparency: According to my Goodreads profile, I followed the reality-star memoir Big Freedia: God Save the Queen Diva with Claudia Rankine’s poetry powerhouse Citizen and Virginia Woolf’s gender-bending Orlando. These choices might seem wildly different—and in many ways they are—yet they all have underlying threads of race, gender, and performance. Likewise, The Little Prince, Flowers of Evil, and The Dud Avocado tell the story of my trip to Paris. If you connect other dots, you can see how I take a breather after long reads with YA and graphic novels and plays; you can observe traces of my book club, my political values, suggestions from friends, and the kinds of fictional worlds I’m most drawn to.
Yes, users like me are handing over our information that a subsidiary of one of the largest corporations in the world tracks—and, yes, that’s freaky. But it shouldn’t come as a surprise. Our personal information has always been the toll exacted by social media for engagement; for me, and other regular users, Goodreads continues to perform a different, complementary purpose to other services, one that feels less like a waste of time and more like a meal for the brain. Hopefully, it’ll have ads to match.
Originally posted here: