Goodreads Blog

Anatomy of Book Discovery: A Case Study

Posted by Patrick Brown on June 14, 2012
It's no secret that discovery—how, when, and where readers "discover" the books they choose to buy and read—remains a top priority for everyone in publishing. Goodreads is uniquely positioned to provide this information with our deep pool of 317 million books cataloged. In the past six months, we've done a lot of research into how readers find books, and we've presented our findings at several conferences, including Tools of Change and, most recently, the International Digital Publishing Forum.

One of the major takeaways of our research is that book discovery happens in a multitude of ways, and there is no single magic bullet that will work for every book. But that doesn't mean there aren't best practices. Here is a case study of how one book reached the promised land of the New York Times best-seller list: Goodreads Author Charles Duhigg's nonfiction book, The Power of Habit.

Stats for The Power of Habit on Goodreads.

Where on Goodreads did people discover The Power of Habit? The above graph shows what part of the site readers were browsing when they added the book. A few months before publication, most people found The Power of Habit through an advance copy giveaway (note the three spikes corresponding with the giveaway dates). Pre-publication giveaways hope to generate early buzz and seed the book page with a good number of reviews, which are crucial in helping future readers decide to add the book. The orange section of the graph shows people who added the book after seeing one of their friends add it. Notice how this starts to swell as more and more people search for the book. This is the word-of-mouth excitement that publishers and authors covet.

The Power of Habit was published on February 28, and around that time people really began searching for the book in earnest (see the red section of the graph). These people likely saw the book in a bookstore or saw it mentioned in a newspaper review or blog post, and they came to Goodreads to find out more. The next graph zooms in on what happened after the publication date:

Stats for The Power of Habit from the publication date on.

All of this early activity earned the book some editorial attention: Our newsletter editors featured it as a March "Mover and Shaker" (the green area shows Goodreads members who found it in the newsletter). Duhigg was also interviewed on NPR's Fresh Air in early March. Notice how the media attention attracted more search and friend traffic as well.

In middle March, The Power of Habit gained enough early reviews to land in our registration path, where we feature a list of all-time favorites and newer popular books. This led to a whole new wave of people discovering the book through Goodreads. Notice how the blue portion helps sustain interest in the book after the initial media attention has faded.

At this point, the Goodreads advertising team noticed that the book was a top trending title on the site and reached out to the publisher. Random House decided to pour more fuel on the fire in the form of an advertising campaign, including a sponsored poll (the brown portion of the graph). Not only did the ad produce the largest spike of people adding the book to their shelves, but it also bumped the book to a new level of popularity, plateauing at more books added per day than prior to the ad campaign.

Obviously, many things have to fall into place for a book to be a best-seller. The timing must be right, and certainly it helps if the book is thought-provoking and well-written. But several things are abundantly clear:

  • Readers discover books in a number of different ways. All these elements of discovery work together and amplify each other over time.

  • It pays to start early. Random House ran three different giveaways to generate advance reviews, which resulted in both Goodreads editorial coverage and a placement in the Goodreads recommendation engine.

  • Well-timed ads are crucial. The ad campaign, while not timed to the publication date, provided a nice boost at just the right moment, feeding the energy the publicity and marketing efforts had created earlier in the book's life.

  • Word of mouth is the foundation. The red and orange areas represent people hearing about the book somewhere other than Goodreads or hearing about it from their friends on Goodreads. Notice how those two areas are present throughout the life of the book. They mirror the bigger moments in the book's promotion, spiking during the media mentions and the advertising campaign, but they are always there providing that "buzz" that gives a book staying power.

For more insights into how books are discovered online, be sure to watch the full presentation from the 2012 International Digital Publishing Forum below.

Happy reading!
Otis, Kyusik, and Patrick

Comments Showing 1-10 of 10 (10 new)

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message 1: by Rita (new)

Rita Arens This is really helpful. I was one of those early reviewers of The Power of Habit and ended up turning it into a blog post instead of a review.

message 2: by Jacqueline (new)

Jacqueline Seewald Since I offered the last two of my novels, The Truth Sleuth and Death Legacy, as Goodreads giveaways, I find this post particularly interesting. Those of us with Indy publishers don't get the same publicity that writers do with the "big six" publishers. Goodreads is helping us to get the word out. Thank you!

Jacqueline Seewald

message 3: by Sam (new)

Sam Thomas I'm on board except for the Mover and Shakers piece.

Because M&S is generated from within Goodreads, it is deeply problematic to use another Goodreads stat (the number of people who put it on their shelf) to measure its popularity. You'd need an external metric for this, for example sales rank at Amazon.

An intriguing experiment would be to track the sales rank of books before and after they hit the M&S list.

I also double promise you that landing on Fresh Aire sold more books than anything else on the chart.

message 4: by Bobbi (last edited Jun 14, 2012 06:45PM) (new)

Bobbi I find Goodreads extremely confusing as an author/publisher, although I've heard that it's one of the best outlets to get the word out about your book online--especially if you do a giveaway. I just wish it was easier for an author to add book covers, info., etc. without contacting a Librarian here. Has that changed? bobbi c.

message 5: by Patrick (new)

Patrick Brown Samuel wrote: "I'm on board except for the Mover and Shakers piece.

Because M&S is generated from within Goodreads, it is deeply problematic to use another Goodreads stat (the number of people who put it on the..."

There are definitely a lot of different ways that people discover books, and what we're sharing here is merely the data we have from Goodreads. All we can do is look at what our 9 million readers are adding to their shelves and what was the last thing they were doing before they hit “add.” By sharing this, we’re aiming to help publishers and authors with additional data to demonstrate how they can potentially improve their overall marketing programs.

To your point about Fresh Air, it's a terrific outlet for books. I've been looking at media mentions and their effect on Goodreads stats for several years, and Fresh Air is a major feature to get.

message 6: by Johanna (new)

Johanna Zanten I wonder how giveaways can be organized if the Bookbaby is involved to distribute the E books to the various E book outlets and they cannot do a one day give away, as all the other E book retailers/outlets are involved, need about a month's notice, and cannot guarantee it to be free.

I wonder how that could be arranged with Goodreads. Any ideas?
My book has been out now for almost 2 months and is being advertised and I am inviting friends and readers for reviews, but are slow in coming.
Johanna van Zanten
Johanna van Zanten

message 7: by Darius (new)

Darius Jones Great post. Very informative. I will have to steal/use these ideas.

,Darius Jones

message 8: by John (new)

John Lomax Very informative, thank you.

Fox House Publishing

message 9: by Qwantu (new)

Qwantu Amaru Very interesting analysis of discoverability. Charles Duhigg is a fantastic presenter as well, saw him live at the Digital Book World Discoverability and Marketing 2012 conference this week in NYC. The problem with these high level overviews of discoverability is that they are not easily translated into actions author's should be taking on a daily basis. Here is a blog by that breaks discoverability down into more practical steps:

message 10: by Fred (new)

Fred Book discovery for readers would be so much easier if R.R. Bowker allowed the public to search their database of upcoming releases.

I know I can go to a library and access the database (if the library pays for access -- my public library no longer does), but it would be much more customer-friendly if I could do so from home. If publishers were serious about making it easier for readers to find new books, they would force Bowker to open this resource to the public. And Bowker should restore the search agent email function they used to have but no longer do.

The same goes for Amazon -- at one time many years ago, Amazon allowed readers to save their search criteria, and when a new title was listed that matched the reader's criteria, Amazon would dispatch an email to the reader. They no longer offer that service and for the life of me, I cannot understand why. I mean, aren't they in the business of selling books?

Why make it harder for readers to find the books they want to (buy and) read?

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