Goodreads cofounder Otis Chandler stood contemplating his next read at the bookshelf of a friend when he realized how important friends’ recommendations can be to a reading list. What started as a shelf-side brainstorm nearly seven years ago has evolved into the world’s largest virtual bookshelf, complete with recommendations, book clubs, discussion groups, author pages, to-read lists, and more than 20 million readers. Otis’ wife and co-founder, Elizabeth Chandler, worked with him to build the online book club engine. Elizabeth says, “What we hoped for when we started, and we still hope for, is that we can change the world. We want to help people read more!”
Otis and Elizabeth worked together on the year-long development of the Goodreads web site.
“I think one of the reasons we’ve been able to have a business together is that we are extremely different,” Elizabeth says. “There have never been any situations where both of us want to complete the same task, or compete with each other for a certain aspect of the business. I’m the ‘words’ person and he’s interested in the engineering and business side of the site. I also think it helps that we respect each other’s opinion. I think that’s true for all relationships: friends, family, work. If you come at a problem or conflict from a place of respect, you can work together.” What started as a project for the two of them has evolved into a 58-employee company.
It is a site built on cooperation and sharing. Through several of the social components, readers can engage with books in a way that adds dimension to their reading choices. Registered readers have access to recommendation tools as well as chat and discussion capability with family, friends, and other readers who share the same reading interests.
“For readers, the value is simple,” Otis says. “Goodreads is great at helping you find good books to read. Between friends, our community, amazing reviews, and our recommendation engine, we see over 11 million books being marked as to-read each month.”
“I immediately noticed an impact on my reading habits,” Elizabeth says. “I had read a lot of books when I was an English major in college, but once I joined the working world, my time spent reading for pleasure diminished. Once we started GR, I began reading many more books and catching up on all those classics I’d wanted to read but never got around to.”
Otis’ reading habits also changed. He shares, “I hoped Goodreads would make me read more, and I’m happy to say it’s worked! I got away from reading in college, and right after, as I was working hard. I would get home exhausted and just turn on the TV or something. But now, I have tons of books I’m excited to pick up when I get home. It’s all about having a book that you are excited about to pick up when you get home, because someone has recommended it to you.”
Otis believes readers are more satisfied when they choose books that align best with their interests.
“Randomly browsing for books in a bookshelf with no more context other than the title and cover needs to be a thing of the past,” he says. “Knowing what friends, notable people, and people in our community think of a book can really give you a good sense for if you want to read it.”
Both of the Chandlers have chosen to engage with the Goodreads community by joining book clubs and discussion groups on the site.
Elizabeth says, “For a long time I joined every group that sounded remotely interesting. Right now, some of the book clubs I follow include: Language & Grammar, iPoetry!, and Bright Young Things.”
Otis belongs to the group Sword & Laser, which reads sci-fi and fantasy. He enjoys their recommendations because, “They are always on top of finding really good and interesting books, and then leading discussions about them.”
The engine of Goodreads has been powerful for authors and publishers as well.
Otis explains, “Goodreads has a suite of tools we can use to put their books in front of the right readers. But we are really just at the tip of the iceberg for what we can create and invent for authors to use Goodreads as a place to build their audience.”
Connecting readers to each other as well as to the authors who inspire them has taken reading books into the expansive internet landscape with unpredictable potential.
When Amazon acquired Goodreads in March, it was expected their reach would be impacted, but so far the operations have stayed the same. Elizabeth says, “There haven’t actually been any differences…yet! As we shared when we announced the fact that we were joining the Amazon family of companies, we now have the reach and resources to introduce even more people to Goodreads and create an even better experience for our members. Together with Amazon, we can now create some amazing services for readers, and we’re excited about the opportunities ahead.”
The Chandlers aren’t quite sure how far things will ultimately go for Goodreads, but Elizabeth encourages readers to “Look out for some exciting features this fall and in the years to come!”
Books that mattered to the Chandlers when they were kids:
Otis: In second grade, I discovered The Hardy Boys series.
Elizabeth: The first book that got me hooked was Heidi. I must have read it 20 times when I was a girl. Other books that shaped my youth: The Barbapapa books when I was very little; the Shoes books by Noel Streatfeild; The Power of One when I was a teenager.
Books that made a difference during the creation of Goodreads:
“We definitely read books about entrepreneurs during the past seven years,” says Elizabeth. “One book I enjoyed during this period was Kathryn Graham’s autobiography. I admire her ability to lead with grace.”