Type of site
|Created by||Otis Chandler|
Goodreads is an American social cataloging website that allows individuals to search its database of books, annotations, quotes, and reviews. Users can sign up and register books to generate library catalogs and reading lists. They can also create their own groups of book suggestions, surveys, polls, blogs, and discussions. The website's offices are located in San Francisco. The company is owned by the online retailer Amazon.
Goodreads was founded in December 2006 and launched in January 2007 by Otis Chandler and Elizabeth Khuri Chandler. In December 2007, the site had 650,000 members and 10,000,000 books had been added. By July 2012, the site reported 10 million members, 20 million monthly visits, and thirty employees. On March 28, 2013, Amazon announced its acquisition of Goodreads, and by July 23, 2013, Goodreads announced their user base had grown to 20 million members.
By July 2019, the site had 90 million members.
Goodreads founders Otis Chandler and Elizabeth Khuri Chandler first met while studying at Stanford (Engineering and English respectively). After university Chandler initially worked as a programmer in on-line businesses, including dating sites, and Khuri Chandler as a journalist.
Foundation and mission
Goodreads was founded in 2006. The idea came about when Otis Chandler was browsing through his friend's bookshelf. He wanted to integrate this scanning experience and to create a space where people could write reviews regarding the books that they read.
Goodreads' stated mission is "to help people find and share books they love ... [and] to improve the process of reading and learning throughout the world." Goodreads addressed what publishers call the "discoverability problem" by guiding consumers in the digital age to find books they might want to read.
During its first year of business, the company was run without any formal funding. In December 2007, the site received funding estimated at $750,000 from angel investors. This funding lasted Goodreads until 2009, when Goodreads received two million dollars from True Ventures.
In 2011, Goodreads acquired Discovereads, a book recommendation engine that employs "machine learning algorithms to analyze which books people might like, based on books they've liked in the past and books that people with similar tastes have liked." After a user has rated 20 books on its five-star scale, the site will begin making recommendations. Otis Chandler believed this rating system would be superior to Amazon's, as Amazon's includes books a user has browsed or purchased as gifts when determining its recommendations. Later that year, Goodreads introduced an algorithm to suggest books to registered users and had over five million members. The New Yorker's Macy Halford noted that the algorithm was not perfect, as the number of books needed to create a perfect recommendation system is so large that "by the time I'd got halfway there, my reading preferences would have changed and I'd have to start over again."
As of 2012, membership was required to use but free. In October 2012, Goodreads announced it had grown to 11 million members with 395 million books cataloged and over 20,000 book clubs created by its users. A month later, in November 2012, Goodreads had surpassed 12 million members, with the member base having doubled in one year.
2013 acquisition by Amazon
In March 2013, Amazon made an agreement to acquire Goodreads in the second quarter of 2013 for an undisclosed sum. Amazon had previously purchased the competitor Shelfari in 2008, with the Goodreads purchase "stunning" the book industry. The Authors Guild called it a "truly devastating act of vertical integration" and that Amazon's "control of online bookselling approaches the insurmountable." There were mixed reactions from Goodreads users, at the time totaling 16 million members. Goodreads founder Otis Chandler said that "his management team would remain in place to guard the reviewing process" with the acquisition, with The New York Times noting that Goodreads at the time had a more reputable reviewing system than Amazon's.
Noting that some authors had been "too aggressive in their self-promotion" (as Goodreads admitted in an email) and that some readers had responded with aggression, in September 2013, Goodreads announced it would delete, without warning, reviews that threatened authors or mentioned authors' behavior. As of April 2020, the site's guidelines still state that "reviews that are predominantly about an author's behavior and not about the book will be deleted."
In January 2016, Amazon announced that it would shut down Shelfari in favor of Goodreads, effective March 16, 2016. Users were offered the ability to export data and migrate accounts.[better source needed] In April 2016, Goodreads announced that over 50 million user reviews had been posted to the website.
On the Goodreads website, users can add books to their personal bookshelves, rate and review books, see what their friends and authors are reading, participate in discussion boards and groups on a variety of topics, and get suggestions for future reading choices based on their reviews of previously read books. Once users have added friends to their profile, they will see their friends' shelves and reviews and can comment on friends' pages. Goodreads features a rating system of one to five stars, with the option of accompanying the rating with a written review. The site provides default bookshelves—read, currently-reading, to-read—and the opportunity to create customized shelves to categorize a user's books.
Goodreads users can read or listen to a preview of a book on the website using Kindle Cloud Reader and Audible. Goodreads also offers quizzes and trivia, quotations, book lists, and free giveaways. Members can receive the regular newsletter featuring new books, suggestions, author interviews, and poetry. If a user has written a work, the work can be linked on the author's profile page, which also includes an author's blog. Goodreads organizes offline opportunities as well, such as in-person book exchanges and "literary pub crawls".
The website facilitates reader interactions with authors through the interviews, giveaways, authors' blogs, and profile information. There is also a special section for authors with suggestions for promoting their works on Goodreads.com, aimed at helping them reach their target audience. By 2011, "seventeen thousand authors, including James Patterson and Margaret Atwood" used Goodreads to advertise.
Users can add each other as "Friends", enabling easy sharing of reviews, posts, book recommendations, and messages.
Additionally, Goodreads has a presence on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and other social networking sites. Linking a Goodreads account with a social networking account like Facebook enables the ability to import contacts from the social networking account to Goodreads, expanding one's Goodreads "Friends" list. There are settings available, as well, to allow Goodreads to post straight to a social networking account, which informs, e.g., Facebook friends, what one is reading or how one rated a book.
Users can set themselves an annual reading challenge which constitutes a target number of books to be read in each year. A tracker is added to the users homepage which provides a progress bar given as the percentage of the target. The tracker also informs the user whether they are "on track to complete" their reading challenge and states the number of books "behind-" or "ahead- of schedule" they are. In 2018, over 4 million users set themselves a reading challenge.
Book catalog data was seeded with large imports from various closed and open data sources, including individual publishers, Ingram, Amazon (before 2012 and after 2013), WorldCat and the Library of Congress.
Goodreads librarians improve book information on the website, including editing book and author information and adding cover images. Goodreads members can apply to become volunteer librarians after they have 50 books on their profile. Goodreads librarians coordinate on the Goodreads Librarian Group.
User data becomes proprietary to Goodreads though available via an application programming interface, or API, unlike similar projects like The Open Library which publish the catalog and user edits as open data. In December 2020, Goodreads deactivated API keys more than 30 days old and said it would no longer be issuing new API keys.
Amazon requirements controversy
In January 2012, Goodreads switched from using Amazon's public Product Advertising API for book metadata (such as title, author, and number of pages) to book wholesaler Ingram. Goodreads felt Amazon's requirements for using its API were too restrictive, and the combination of Ingram, the Library of Congress, and other sources would be more flexible. Some users worried that their reading records would be lost, but Goodreads had a number of plans in place to ease the transition and ensure that no data was lost, even for titles that might be in danger of deletion because they were available only through Amazon, such as Kindle editions and self-published works on Amazon. In May 2013, as a result of Goodreads' acquisition by Amazon, Goodreads began using Amazon's data again.
Competition and review fairness
In 2012, after a reviewer wrote a poor review of a novel, the novel's author and publisher discussed publicly on Twitter how to "knock it off" the front page of the novel's Goodreads page. This sparked a furor about the relationship between authors and reviewers on Goodreads. That same year, Goodreads received criticism from users about the availability and tone of reviews posted on the site, with some users and websites stated that certain reviewers were harassing and encouraging attacks on authors. Goodreads publicly posted its review guidelines in August 2012 to address these issues. Later, new owner Amazon modified its policy to include deletion of any review containing "an ad hominem attack or an off-topic comment". Several news sources reported the announcement, noting Amazon's business reasons for the move:
Where authors were threatening a mass account cancellation to protest the bullying, many of the reader users who commented on the announcement are now threatening the same thing. And while much of this might seem like nothing more than petty playground behavior between children who honestly do not have a clear good guy or bad guy, keep in mind that several e-book retailers incorporate the Goodreads' API into their sales pages, effectively posting book reviews that many in the Goodreads community know to be false, and nothing more than an act of revenge against an author; real-world sales decisions have been made by consumers based on these reviews.— Mercy Pilkington, Good E-Reader News
Regarding the 2013 Amazon acquisition of Goodreads, The New York Times said, "Goodreads was a rival to Amazon as a place for discovering books" and that this deal "consolidates Amazon's power to determine which authors get exposure for their work".
Goodreads Choice Awards
Some[vague] feel that Goodreads' dominant position, coupled with limited development by Amazon, has prevented better tools emerging for personalized book recommendations. Goodreads has also fallen under criticism from users who feel that the site is outdated and prone to frequent crashes and bugs, and that the recommendations are poor, frequently suggesting popular books at random rather than anything more personalized.
Authors who are aware of the site have noted problematic qualities such as a lack of proper disambiguation for authors with the same name, rough drafts being catalogued to the site by virtue of having an ISBN, and an inability to list the author's preferred name for formerly pseudonymous authors who want to claim their pseudonymous works under their real legal name; Goodreads opts instead to list the pseudonym as the primary author, also displaying the early pseudonymous edition as the prominently displayed edition on Goodreads, even if this is no longer relevant. Transgender authors who previously published under "dead names", according to Goodreads, can contact the website directly to request exceptions.
Some authors have criticized Goodreads's stance on functioning like a public library rather than giving authors any control over how their information is displayed, noting that for most authors, Goodreads is the first page people see when they search on a web browser. It has also been criticized that Goodreads allows both users and authors to post quotes attributed to an author without verification of any sort; removal of such quotes is left largely in the hands of volunteer "librarians", as authors have little to no individual control over quotes posted to their own profiles. Having false or invalid quotes removed can be a difficult process; problematically the quotes can be picked up by third-party websites like Pinterest and Instagram in the meantime, spreading invalid quotes attributed to the author even further, as Goodreads quotes bring a high amount of web traffic. Goodreads often refuses to remove quotes with "likes" from an author's profile, even if the quotes are false or invalid.
Both authors and readers have noted an increase in political banter, trolling, cancel culture and cyberbullying afflicting the website. Goodreads has tried to address this, implementing rules such as only allowing reviewers to criticize a book itself, not author behaviour or political affiliations. Some[vague] users consider this decision to be a form of censorship.
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At Goodreads, we make it a priority to use book information from the most reliable and open data sources
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By posting any User Content on the Service, you expressly grant, and you represent and warrant that you have a right to grant, to Goodreads a royalty-free, sublicensable, transferable, perpetual, irrevocable, non-exclusive, worldwide ....
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