Interview with Kyusik Chung from Goodreads
1. Let’s start with you. What is your role at Goodreads? What was your experience prior to joining the company?
I’m VP of Business Development at Goodreads. Before that, I was CEO and co-founder of Discovereads which was acquired by Goodreads in March 2011. At Discovereads, we spent three years developing proprietary algorithms to generate personalized book recommendations. After the acquisition, we spent a few months integrating the algorithms with the incredible set of data that Goodreads had accumulated on books, what people thought of those books and how different books were related to each other. In September 2011, we launched the Goodreads Book Recommendation Engine which analyzes 20 billion data points to deliver next-gen book recommendations. We were blown away by the response from members as they tried it out. The Tweets and Facebook comments were amazing. Since the launch, we’ve seen the average daily number of books added “to read” on our site increase by 60% which shows you how useful members are finding the recommendations. Prior to founding Discovereads, I was a Product Manager at Zillow.com where I helped create the “Zestimate” valuation engine that predicts over 45 million individual home prices every day. Before Zillow, I was a Lead Program Manager at Expedia.
2. Goodreads has grown to become the number one place for book lovers online. Can you talk about how you developed that community?
It’s nearly all been word of mouth. People who love reading books also love to talk about books with other people and members are our biggest evangelists. Librarians are also big supporters of Goodreads and recommend us to their patrons. Our roots are in social networking – the original basis for Goodreads was friends recommending books to each other – so we also have an “invite friends” option which many members use and that’s helped attract members too. We know that one of the key benefits of Goodreads is interacting with other readers, either by seeing what friends are reading or by reading and commenting on reviews by other members.
3. What characteristics would you say define the Goodreads community?
You know, this is really interesting for us. You talk with members and there’s a word that comes up time and time again: trust. Members really trust the reviews of other Goodreads members in a way they don’t trust other book reviews. They tell us there’s a quality and thoughtfulness to Goodreads reviews that is not found on other sites. The reason behind this is the type of people who are members. What really defines Goodreads is that it attracts people who genuinely love to read. A lot of our earlier members are book bloggers, librarians and book club members. We have 20,000 book clubs on our site ranging from small, private groups who use Goodreads to organize their meetings, vote on their next book choice and keep the discussion going between meetings to virtual groups open to anyone such as the Paranormal Romance group (almost 10,000 members), Poetry! (5,800) and SciFi and Fantasy Book Club (5,400).
4. Recently your site has launched some exciting new features, such as a recommendation engine. What actually goes into adding such functionality to the site, and what are some of your favorite features?
What goes into adding new functionality depends on what we’re adding. With the book recommendation engine, there was three years worth of work on the algorithms and then it took six months to integrate this with the Goodreads data. This was probably the hardest feature to develop in Goodreads’ history! To do it right, it’s a complex task. Favorite features – it’s hard to narrow it down to a few! My favorite, of course, is the personalized book recommendation engine. Some other favorites are:
• iPhone and Android apps – I love that you can use the barcode scanner on the iPhone to easily look up reviews on any book when you are out and about. With both apps, you can add books to your “to read” list and you can check your “to read” list when you’re at the library or bookstore which means you’ll never again be stuck trying to remember the title of that great book that you wanted to get.
• Author video chats. We’ve had everyone from Neal Stephenson and Gregory Maguire to self-published authors like Matthew Allard participate in hour-long interviews. Users get to ask questions, live. They’ve all turned out to be really fascinating interviews. Our members ask some pretty sophisticated questions and in the hour-long format, users get to know the author better than from a short segment on a talk show.
• Our giveaways! If you haven’t already discovered these, you’re missing out. You enter for the chance to win an ARC (advance readers copy) of a book. They are hugely popular. We encourage winners to write a review so that others can learn more about upcoming and new releases.
5. Can you discuss the evolution of your user base? What patterns have you seen in growth rate recently, and overall?
In the early stages, we attracted a lot of readers who are “Critics” and “Collectors” to use terms from the Social Technographics developed by Josh Bernoff and Charlene Li. These are members who are prolific in the quality and quantity of reviews that they write. And many of them love keeping track of what they have read. We’re still attracting a lot of new members like this. But with 14 million monthly UVs, we’re also clearly becoming a resource for the “Spectators” of the world – people who come simply to read the reviews. 2011 has been a banner year for us. We’re now at over 6.5 million members. It took us three years to reach 3 million members and only another 15 months to hit 6 million. As more people are introduced to Goodreads, they in turn bring additional friends into the fold.
6. How do you think being published in the digital age has changed the author’s role in the publishing process?
It’s a lot more work for authors! Now you not only have to write the book, you also have to figure out which publishing option is best for you and then you have to help readers discover the book. There’s a huge learning curve for new authors, but luckily there’s a ton of information out there to help you.
7. Goodreads is obviously an amazing tool for readers, but tell us about the tools available for authors.
We have 30,000 authors on Goodreads. As an author, you can use our free Goodreads Author platform to promote your books. What makes us so valuable to authors is the fact that we have the largest community of readers in the world. And many of them are the “mavens” of the book world – Goodreads members are often trusted sources of book recommendations for their circle of friends so they help build that priceless word of mouth that can really help a book. Some of the things authors can do with Goodreads include:
• Add fans to your network – anyone who fans your Goodreads Author page will get updates from your blog if it is linked to Goodreads.
• Host group chats and live video events • Provide giveaways to generate pre-launch buzz.
• Track statistics such as how many readers have added your books to read.
• Use our easy and cost effective self-serve advertising with genre/author targeting.
• Publicize upcoming events such as book signings and readings Authors just getting started with Goodreads can find some great advice in our author guidelines.
8. PUBSLUSH will be working with Goodreads to set up and manage accounts for all our published authors. Beyond that, do you have any suggestions or tactics for success for aspiring authors to promote themselves, Goodreads related or otherwise?
There are a ton of things you can do but I’ll limit myself to three suggestions, all of which authors can do on Goodreads and their own website:
• Nurture your fans – thank anyone who writes a great review for you and respond to messages and questions.
• Think in terms of insider info – share a passage from an upcoming book in advance as a teaser, let fans know the insider story behind the inspiration for a character, share a photo of the place that was the basis for a key location, tell people the best music for you to listen to when writing.
• Get fan input – ask them to vote on a book cover suggestion or locations for a book tour or which book trailer to use.
9. Representing a social community of authors, what is your take on PUBSLUSH’s less bureaucratic approach to publishing?
I think PUBSLUSH is an interesting approach leveraging some of the key trends in social media today. The world of publishing is undergoing such huge disruption that it’s perfect timing for a new approach to help authors get published.
10. What is your perspective on the future of publishing and how do you envision Goodreads’ role evolving with the industry?
It’s a really exciting time for the publishing industry. Technology is enabling different ways of publishing, book marketing, and even the very act of reading. We’re in the early stages right now so there are a lot of different approaches being tested to see what works. How consumers respond will shape which approaches grow and strengthen and which ones will die off. The thing I’m sure of today is that publishing, book marketing, and reading will all look quite different in the future. We’re focused on helping readers discover books they love. That’s what we’ve always been about and I don’t see the core mission changing. It’s an increasingly important role as book buying moves online and you lose the serendipity of discovering a book in a bookstore. We’ll continue to experiment and embrace new technology that helps us fulfill that mission. We’re only in chapter one of our story so stay tuned for the next installment!