Goodreads Surveys to Discover the Reader’s Journey

Kim Ukura

Staff Writer

Kim Ukura is a book lover, recovering journalist, library advocate, cat mom, and lover of a good gin cocktail. In addition to co-hosting Book Riot’s nonfiction podcast, For Real, and co-editing Book Riot’s nonfiction newsletter, True Story, Kim spends her days working in communications at a county library system in the Twin Cities area. Kim has a BA in English and journalism from a small liberal arts college in Minnesota, and a master’s in journalism from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. When not getting to bed before 10 p.m., Kim loves to read nonfiction, do needlework projects, drink tea, and watch the Great British Baking Show. Instagram: @kimthedork Twitter: @kimthedork

What is the path a reader takes from discovering, to purchasing, to reading a book? What is this mythical Reader’s Journey, and how can publishers understand it better?

In a presentation at the Tools of Change publishing conference in February (re-capped on the Goodreads blog), staff from Goodreads tried to answer these publisher-inspired questions based on survey results from the Goodreads community.

The survey focused on two books: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, the most reviewed book on the site in 2012, and The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, a finalist in the 2011 Goodreads Choice Awards. In both cases, Goodreads surveyed 1,000 readers of each book to understand the Reader’s Journey.

The first step is to hear about the book. In both cases, most readers – upwards of 30 percent – heard about the book from a friend. Other popular sources included the media and Goodreads (Gone Girl) and Goodreads or a bookstore (The Night Circus).

But overwhelmingly, readers finally decided to buy/borrow then read the book based on a recommendation from a trusted friend. This was followed, not especially closely, by “Everyone Talking About It” for Gone Girl and “Sample Read” or “Goodreads Review” or “Book Club” for The Night Circus.

It’s probably not surprising that the most common answer on a site like Goodreads, which emphasizes the social aspect of reading, would be that readers are convinced to read a book by their trusted friends.

And it’s the model that the glut of new social book sites are building on. By automatically connecting readers to people they’re already “friends” with via an automatic Facebook connect feature, for example, sites are trying to emulate the idea of getting recommendations from friends without people really need to ever talk about books more deeply.

But is it enough just to see what books your friends are reading through status updates or on shared bookshelves? It’s not for me. I always want to ask more – Why did you read this? What did you like about it? Do you think I’d like it? I don’t know if social sites can emulate this dynamic, as much as developers and publishers wish that they could.

I’m also curious how these results would skew with different books. How, for example, are readers convinced to read books with less mainstream buzz? The Night Circus scored pretty low on the “Everyone is Talking About It” metric, yet if we’re only reading what our trusted friends are reading, how do books without marketing or popular appeal get read in the first place? Does it still take some sort of big media blitz to convince a few “influential” readers to pick up a book and then start recommending it to friends?

I think the staff at Goodreads is certainly on to something with this survey, but being a data geek I can’t help wanting more – more readers, more books, more results to think about. Like the Reader’s Journey itself, the quest to understand the Reader’s Journey is never done.

You can read Goodreads full analysis of the survey results and see the slides from their presentation on the Goodreads blog.