Why Goodreads is Hard to Unseat (part 1)
This piece is a response to these two pieces.

I think they overlook something critical, which is email.
The Importance of Email.

Email is a huge deal for Goodreads, and for any competitor.

The first linked piece above includes this breakdown of traffic sources:

(I don't know the origin of those stats. If they are wrong, apply appropriate skepticism to other claims here.)

But if we take them at face value, let's then take a closer look...


Most email clicks look like direct traffic in analytics. That's what's going on here.

If you're skeptical, take a minute and consider other reasons why 42% of Goodreads' traffic looks like direct links. Lots of browser favorites, maybe?

42% is a WILD number. Nearly as much as traffic as google!

But it's no surprise. Goodreads sends out tremendous volumes of email.

Emails like this:
And this:
And this:
Before Amazon acquired them, those emails looked like this:

I've read complaints that Amazon bought Goodreads and just let it stagnate with no improvements. That belief is incorrect. Amazon has been working on the goodreads email channel with hammer and tongs.

High volume email is a non trivial undertaking. Consider what the team structure might look like for the folks responsible for those emails, which - again - account for 42% of goodreads' incoming eyeballs.

For any social network, email is a key channel. Everyone uses it. No other company owns it.

That's why facebook also sends tons of email:

Any serious competitor to Goodreads must choose to be good at email, social graph style.

Which means you're gonna need a social graph I guess.

Social Network Eeeeww.

Lots of Goodreads competitors do not yearn to be a big data-aggregating, privacy-invading, etc etc social network.

So they don't have these things:

Which is too bad, because they can't email me when my book-reading friends read books.

That aversion is somewhat justified. Facebook was bad from the start. Everyone knew it. The model is facehuggering people's attention and jamming ads down their throat. That was never going to lead anywhere good.

But a social graph that only cares about people reading books is...not bad. That's honestly a good thing in the world. Right?

To me, this is why goodreads initially felt like a social network that was fundamentally ok.
Until Amazon bought them.

Here's an insightful quote from a friend:

In Goodreads' case, there is no next thing. I read books, you read books, here's a service that tells each other what we're reading.

To be fair, a bunch of the competitors have tried to target a special niche. Goodreads for ebooks. Goodreads for audiobooks.

But the main differentiator seems to be: Goodreads but not Amazon.

That's not quite enough.

It has to be Goodreads but not Amazon, but with a strong social graph and lots and lots of email.

And a business model.

Maybe that "next thing" is the business model. Something like a nonprofit B-corp with strong funding from every book publisher that isn't amazon? I don't know.

I wish the Goodreads usurpers every success (even booksloth!) And I hope they get serious about the social graph emails.