Goodreads Blog

A new kind of middleman

Posted by Otis Chandler on October 19, 2011
Amazon has been aggressively getting into the publishing game as of late. The New York Times just wrote a great overview on what Amazon has been doing, which has stimulated a lot of discussion online.

The key quote was one by Amazon executive Russ Grandinetti:

"The only really necessary people in the publishing process now are the writer and reader. Everyone who stands between those two has both risk and opportunity."

I couldn't agree more. What has changed is that distribution of books is quickly moving online. The whole ecosystem around books, which has largely been designed to distribute and sell physical books, is having to change too. A man I greatly admire, Om Malik, wrote "we finally are seeing a change" - and that's exciting.

A publishing executive told me a few years ago that "the best way to sell a book is to get it on the front table of every bookstore in the nation." Amazon is making a big bet against that statment with its new publishing arm. And I think they are smart. Ebooks are already 20% of revenue for most major houses - and it's a good bet it will be 50% within a year or two.

Today, it's incredibly easy to get a book listed in every major online bookstore: Amazon, Kindle, Nook, iBookstore, Google, Kobo, and more. What's more, as Bill Barol noted in a post on Boing Boing on Monday, what many readers may not grasp in this brave new world of publishing is how authors are now having to hustle on the marketing and promotion of their books. Bill's post has another gem of a quote:

"Take all that time you spend screwing around on Twitter and put it into marketing your book. And, at least in the beginning, sell it as cheap as you can. In fact, you know what? Give it away."


This is essentially the argument that Chris Anderson makes in his recent book, Free. In a digital economy, free is an extremely powerful marketing tool - and we can afford to use it, because the marginal cost is essentially zero.

At Goodreads we see every day that the major problem most authors face in today's world is discoverability. Goodreads has made great efforts to bridge the gap between readers and writers, because we see a tremendous opportunity to help readers and authors connect.

Over the past five years, we've built numerous ways for readers to find new books to read. And find books they have - we just crossed 200 million books added - and we are currently growing at 12 million a month!. On the author side our Author Program has grown to over 28 thousand authors using Goodreads to promote their work and connect to readers. Our recently launched recommendation engine is a big step in the direction of discoverability, and the response to it has been extremely positive and encouraging.

We're excited to be a part of the new digital ecosystem for books, and even more excited to see what amazing books are yet to be discovered by Goodreads members.

Comments (showing 1-21 of 21) (21 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Lillian (new)

Lillian But the problem with removing everyone except writer and reader is that there's no one going through the slush piles and discarding the books that aren't ready to be published or just simply aren't good enough. There's a place for discovering the gem amidst all the junk (Amazon can become the Youtube of the book world) and there's a place for curated collections of books (this is where publishers and book buyers come in). We need both.


message 2: by Jon (new)

Jon Did anyone else see the announcement about the Kobo Vox ereader? Competitor to both the Kindle Fire and the B&N Nook Color for $200.

My biggest concern with the Vox (and other ereaders) is the 'reinvent the wheel' (and proprietoriness) of the social media for readers syndrome. (see this article for more details: http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by...).

GoodReads is already the best social media for readers. I would love to see much better integration with all the ereaders. I don't want to use Kobo'ss or B&N's or Amazon's flavor of social media.


message 3: by Otis, Chief Goodreader (new)

Otis Chandler "GoodReads is already the best social media for readers. I would love to see much better integration with all the ereaders. I don't want to use Kobo'ss or B&N's or Amazon's flavor of social media. "

Love that. What would you like to see?


message 4: by Jon (new)

Jon I liked the idea mentioned in the article about being able to strike up a conversation with someone who is reading the same ebook you are right on the page you are reading.

The ability to quote directly from any ebook I'm reading and turn it into a status update to GoodReads. The Nook Color does this, but posts it to B&N only. Same for page status updates.


message 5: by Steffan (new)

Steffan Lillian wrote: "But the problem with removing everyone except writer and reader is that there's no one going through the slush piles and discarding the books that aren't ready to be published or just simply aren't..."

Amazon's publishing endeavor comes with scores of editors, veterans of the 'Olde World Book Industry' to borrow a term and lots of oversight, discussion and fine tuning. They're not just publishing the slush piles. Trying to implant that narrative within this, is misleading.


message 6: by Otis, Chief Goodreader (new)

Otis Chandler Lillian wrote: "But the problem with removing everyone except writer and reader is that there's no one going through the slush piles and discarding the books that aren't ready to be published or just simply aren't..."

This is exactly the problem that the industry is facing. Bowker has said there are 300,000 books published a year, and probably 70% of those are self-published books that are in the slush piles. Who is sorting through them? Goodreads members are! I love it how even the most rare of books often has some people who have read and reviewed it.


message 7: by Lillian (new)

Lillian Steffan, you're absolutely right. The way I worded it implies that Amazon publishing doesn't weed through the piles. I meant that taking the equation down to just reader and writer doesn't leave anyone to edit or curate.


message 8: by Steffan (new)

Steffan This might be the problem the industry is facing, but continuing to ascribe it to Amazon's Imprints, while not differentiating from from Kindle Direct Publishing ... is missing the point.

Goodreads members are some of the best readers out there, and also the most diligent in knowing what's what in the marketplace and I've been blessed by them many times over. The reader's also do a fantastic job of finding great works from those slush piles and properly elevating them.

Otis, your message above leads with 'what Amazon has been doing recently as a Publisher', *not* what services it offers, like through Createspace.

People ask all time 'How can we determine what's self-published material and what isn't?' The answer is simple: if the book is from Amazon Digital Services or Createspace -- then you have your answer. If you have a book with an Amazon Encore, Crossing, Montlake, etc. logo then you know it's been rigorously vetted like it would at any other publisher, which is what the concern was.

I know it's any easy place for folks mentally to go when thinking of this issue and worry, but it's really like the transition from silent film to "talkies," or ACME to Nordstrom's. The difference is huge.

However, it is a larger probelm of perception. Perhaps one that takes more time to be mounted.


message 9: by Lauren (new)

Lauren This is both wonderful and worrying. As a reader, I'm interested. As a publisher, I'm nervous about the increasing dominance of Amazon in the publishing world.

Ah well, I'm not ambivalent in my love of GoodReads!


message 10: by Fran (new)

Fran Baker Lillian wrote: I meant that taking the equation down to just reader and writer doesn't leave anyone to edit or curate.

One way to solve that problem is to read a sample of the book. If you're finding errors early on, it's a good bet they continue throughout the book. Or if the story seems too wordy and in need of a good copy editor to pare it down, you're probably going to be too frustrated to finish reading it. So ... sample, sample, sample!


message 11: by Steffan (new)

Steffan Lillian wrote: "Steffan, you're absolutely right. The way I worded it implies that Amazon publishing doesn't weed through the piles. I meant that taking the equation down to just reader and writer doesn't leave an..."

Understood, Lillian. Many thanks. The language used in the mainstream press, historically, has been close to unkind regarding this, but slowly changing for the better.

And the truth is ... most folks just don't really follow Publishers too close anyhow, lol. Not very much to get excited about.


message 12: by Lillian (new)

Lillian Fran wrote: sample, sample, sample!"
But that's exactly the possible problem - there are way, way (way!) too many books to sample. It's overwhelming to think of choosing a book when publishers, editors, and maybe even bookstores haven't been part of the weeding out process.


message 13: by Jon (new)

Jon Lillian wrote: "Fran wrote: sample, sample, sample!"
But that's exactly the possible problem - there are way, way (way!) too many books to sample. It's overwhelming to think of choosing a book when publishers, ed..."


Especially if the price of ebooks doesn't come down. There's no way I'm going to pop for over $10 to try an unknown author. I'm definitely an advocate of reading sample chapters.


message 14: by Hermina (new)

Hermina Oláh Vass I have to agree with Fran. Sampling a book can last for as little as 5 minutes. Which means that's how much time the author has to capture the reader. If something goes through that filter it ought to be worth anyone's while. Besides, not all self-pubbed books are weed. And if people are doing the 'weeding out' as a community (like here, on Goodreads) it won't be as overwhelming.


message 15: by Mike (new)

Mike  Davis While publishers provide a useful middleman for editing, it adds greatly to the minimum price needed for a book. Sites such as GR act, in effect, as a free market in which virtually all listed books have been read and evaluated by readers, often through the First Reads channel. Many of the highly advertised titles that assail us when walking into a brick & mortar store are warmed over sequels from previously successful authors and are borderline slush pile candidates - so many casual readers buy the name which inflates the stats. GR readers are largely an exception, and ratings here are invaluable in choosing whether to invest in a high-priced big name author, or turn to a new name. And with the proliferation of eBooks, there is no production limit or delay to a ready market.


message 16: by Michael (last edited Oct 19, 2011 07:12PM) (new)

Michael There is definitely a new ecosystem. But publishing without some form of curation creates chaos for the readers, even with tools like GoodReads. As writers and readers are armed with new tools to create efficiencies ideally publishers will be as well. Horntooting, but our start-up Submittable is being used by over 2000 publisher to efficiently engaging with unsolicated works so that they can focus again on editing and sales. I'm sure there will be other tools in this space soon as well.


message 17: by Scott (last edited Oct 20, 2011 01:18PM) (new)

Scott Nicholson I think readers do a fantastic job of winnowing out the chaff--in fact, they are far better than publishers at finding the books they want to read. I've been published in big press, small press, self press, and soon with Amazon, and there is not a major difference in quality between any of it--assuming the author gets a decent editor if going it alone.

I compare all those bad or unwanted books to all those web sites out there that you never visit. Do they bother you or waste your time? Do you even know they exist? I think we'll all do just fine finding the books we want.


message 18: by Fran (new)

Fran Baker You're right, Scott. The reader is the final judge. What the author has to do is find his/her readers ... no easy task now that so many bricks-and-mortar bookstores have been replaced by online stores. That's where a site like GR can help (some, anyway) by bringing writers and readers together.


message 19: by Clouddancer (new)

Clouddancer As an editor/proofreader, who right now is working with a pretty decent book (language-wise) that's unfortunately riddled with hard-to-spot factual errors, I say good luck to all the sampling readers.


message 20: by Steffan (new)

Steffan Some of the best books I've ever read, were usually authors that for one reason or another were not carried by bookstores.

Example:

I used to by all the Robert Beck novels when I was a kid from the magazine vendor on the corner of Cahuenga and Hollywood Blvd in Los Angeles. They were always visible, but just out of view and NEVER available at any book store.


message 21: by Xiao (new)

Xiao Love the new book Tim!
I’m still focused on building and testing muses. I guess I’m stuck with the 4HWW mindset. I just launched a kickstarter campaign and would love your help to expand my muse. Please check out my kickstarter link here: Wholesale silver jewelry.
Good work on the book once again!
- Zac


back to top