For years, Amazon has been giving customers book recommendations based on past purchases and recently viewed items. The only problem is that these recommendations have been woefully inadequate and frequently absurd. “Your recommendation: Bossypants by Tina Fey because you recently purchased: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.” Really?
So I’ve been picking new books to read like I always did before online retail: through friends or other trusted sources. But now there is a website called Goodreads.com with a book algorithm that actually makes useful recommendations! To be honest, the site has been around since 2006, but I have only heard of it recently and am now addicted. By quickly rating a bunch of books you’ve read or want to read, the algorithm can piece together surprisingly accurate suggestions. It is also a useful tool if, like me, you are constantly writing book titles on scraps of paper and losing them, and want to keep a master list of everything you want to read at some point.
Yet the algorithm is not without its small problems. After feeding it what I considered a decent sample of books (about a hundred), I discovered that one of my favorite genres was supposedly “young adult” books. After scrolling over the recommendations, I realized that it had categorized many “classics” and “broad appeal” books into this category without consideration for the genre of the book or subject matter. Harry Potter goes into “young adult”. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (a more complex read, to be sure) also goes into the catch-all “young adult”? Hopefully they’ll refine to include subcategories soon.
Right now the site is completely free and seems to have a good plan for generating necessary cash flow by serving ads and direct links to buy books on Amazon.com and other online retailers. The next obvious steps for the brand would be to partner up with an established brand, such as Amazon or even the Oprah Book Club, to expand the network of bookworms and in the process provide users with even more targeted recommendations.
A partnership with Amazon could work like this: Goodreads would become a widget on Amazon’s book pages to improve recommendations, and in turn drive more users to set up Goodreads accounts. Goodreads could then include the Amazon 1-click and Wishlist features into its platform and get a cut of every purchase. It seems cross-site integration is the perfect fit for this growing online brand.
Do you think Goodreads should integrate or stay independent?