Starting a Business

How Goodreads Got Started

By tapping into the collective popularity of books, Goodreads quickly built a devoted following in the multiple millions.
Magazine Contributor
3 min read

This story appears in the March 2011 issue of . Subscribe »

  • Founder and CEO Otis Chandler previously built a social networking and dating site for, which was acquired by Monster Worldwide in 2004
  • 7 million monthly unique visitors
  • 55 million monthly page views
  • 100,000 new users a month
  • 11 employees
  • Based in Santa Monica, Calif.

What It Is
Goodreads is a free social network where readers can discuss books, write reviews and catalog what they've read, are reading and want to read. The 4.4 million registered users (from browsers to hard-core bookworms) compare and recommend books, follow reviews, customize their bookshelves and join reading groups. Readers categorize books on Goodreads' "shelves" (read, to-read, currently reading and shelves they can customize with their own categories).

How It Started
Chandler launched Goodreads in December 2006. An angel round was raised a year later, after the site garnered about 100,000 users. In December 2009, True Ventures, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based early-stage venture-capital firm, led a $2 million Series A round of funding.

Why It Took Off
Chandler and his wife, co-founder Elizabeth Chandler, got the link out to about 800 people themselves, and it took off from there. Goodreads has a Facebook app, widgets for blogs and websites and an option to post reviews on Twitter--but Chandler says the best marketing strategy is still word of mouth. "Reading may be a solitary activity, but what you're reading and what you think of what you're reading are ideas," Chandler says. "And ideas are much better if they're shared."

The Business Case
Goodreads makes money through advertising--mostly from book publishers and authors. Goodreads works with the "Big Six"--Random House, HarperCollins, Penguin, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan and Hachette Book Group--as well as with smaller publishers and individual authors with smaller budgets. It's hard for publishers to track the effectiveness of book marketing campaigns, Chandler says, and Goodreads uniquely offers them targeted advertising. "We get something like 150,000 books shelved a day, of which 35 percent are on the to-read list," he says. "Goodreads can provide authors and publishers with those numbers. It's not quite intent to buy, but it's intent to read, which is pretty close."

What's Next
Goodreads' Book Genome Project will offer Pandora-like recommendations and collect detailed information from books to enhance the browsing experience. "If you search for science fiction books," Chandler says, "you may be able to drill down into paranormal vampire books that are set in Transylvania and deal with orphans."

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