The Goodreads To-Read List: A Metric For the Endless Launch Window

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

Anyone who has worked with the publicity departments of the larger publishers know that the brunt of promotion for most new books falls within a relatively short, 4-to-6 week period immediately prior and following the release date. Like their distant cousins in the Hollywood movie business, each wave of new books must quickly make way for the next crop right behind, resulting in a concentrated, highly urgent race to achieve the desired sales results for any book.

Occasionally, thanks to media coverage or other forces of nature in the entertainment ecosystem, a book will have a promo burst outside of the expected publicity period, an event usually considered a happy coincidence or stroke of good fortune.

Despite the similarities in promotional planning though, there are a couple of very important differences to note between the book and movie promotional cycles that should allow for a very different marketing plan. First, because most new release films typically don’t linger in theaters beyond the 4-to-6 week period, an accelerated marketing plan is a necessity; most movies–give or take an international surge or DVD release surprise–are unequivocally made or broken during that mad-dash sprint to the six week finish line. Books, on the other hand, are perpetually available to the reader. New releases aren’t pushing the previously-released books off the shelf entirely, rather, they’re joining them on the shelves, freely available for discovery whenever the inspiration should occur.

Secondly, the time it takes for word of mouth to truly circulate and drive awareness among readers is frequently much longer than 4-to-6 weeks. A moviegoer can spend two hours at a theater on a Friday night and be Facebooking an enthusiastic thumbs up by Saturday morning. A good book, on the other hand, takes days or even weeks to finish and recommend. Of course, given that new release movies will physically disappear from theaters in a month’s time, the marketing plans are built to move the masses, furious mass media assaults that include prime time TV spots, massive online trailer distribution campaigns, billboards, online advertising, YouTube campaigns, the works. Book advertising has always been more modest and just doesn’t pack the same punch in terms of breaking through the noise to immediately reach all interested readers. By all accounts, book launches should be designed as longer events by default.

For many readers, it is. Today, with sites like Goodreads, Facebook and other online blogs and communities, the extended book discovery period is flourishing, in some cases existing without a clear beginning or end. And while there are certainly people who shop primarily from the new release shelves looking for only the latest books, for a huge number of readers, any book they haven’t read before is brand new–at least to them.

Enter the Goodreads To-Read list. As Goodreads CEO Otis Chandler explained in a recent video interview with Bibliostar.TV, the To-Read list represents a new metric for book buyers: I’m not interested now, but I probably will be later. The to-read list represents the intent consider the book down the line, but even more importantly, it represents an implied desire to not forget the book. As Chandler said in the interview:

“It’s not just about views and click-throughs on Goodreads, its about how much engagement did you drive? And our metric on engagement is [the number of people who] added your book to our “To-Read” shelf…This is a good metric of intent to purchase and its a really fun thing to watch as you market a book, as it comes out, as we drive awareness of it to watch more and more people adding it to to-read, and then watch those to-reads converting into reviews.”

In the interview above and in a recent Q&A with Digital Book World’s Jeremy Greenfield, Chandler stressed the important role Goodreads plays for publishers during the publisher-defined first-month launch period, with giveaways, advertising, and early emails helping to drive buzz and important early reviews. That’s true, and certainly welcome, but it would also be helpful for publicity departments to think more proactively about the longer-term opportunities afforded by Goodreads and other online venues that give great books a second or third bite at the marketing apple. Given our evolving reading habits, there’s surely a significant number of books that would benefit from a strategy that assumes book promotion as a marathon, instead of a sprint.

Related links:
Goodreads CEO Otis Chandler on the Future of Discoverability and Social Reading, by Jeremy Greenfield

Full Bibliostar.TV interview with Otis Chandler, Founder & CEO of Goodreads


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