Daniel Polansky and Howard Hardiman's The Builders
The Thing is... Swamp Thing #1

Weirdness Rodeo: Goodreads Does Polls!

It occurs to me that the Goodreads polls are probably a really good source of data. I will occasionally, lazily screenshot one, but I've really paid close attention to the numbers. But, holy cow.

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  • Goodreads-contact
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Goodreads readers still aren't "average" readers - by definition, we're talking about those folks that are passionate enough about reading that they feel the need to track and share their progress on a specialised social network. But they're still further down the pyramid from, say, I dunno... blogs like this one. And, especially with the volume of results, we're a lot closer to getting insight into a "typical" reader than I dunno, a poll at a convention, or 95% of the crappy surveys commissioned by trade bodies. 

A few things that leap out, and please, share your own conclusions (spurious, jumped-to, and otherwise) in the comments...

Conventional wisdom is that 'cover is all', but here it really, really gets hammered. A survey Kindred conducted about 18 months ago had a similar result - with 'description' taking the top spot there too.

I think there are two possible conclusions. First, this feels like the origins of a deliciously clickbaity blog post in the making - "COVERS ARE DEAD!!!!?!?!?!". We are living in a world where our contact with covers is increasingly 120 x 180 pixels on the Amazon search results. I mean, yeeks.

That said, and secondly - meh.

I think this is a great example of surveys not being able to pick up the correct answers, because people aren't always aware of the influences in play when it comes to making a purchasing decision. In very, very few cases would a reader have even made it to the 'tantalizing description' without first seeing the cover. Maybe, in some cases, a bad cover prevented the reader from going on. Maybe the cover influenced how the reader interpreted the description. In any case, the description would've been the last thing that the reader experienced before clicking 'WANT'. There's a natural recency bias there when it comes to attributing the decision. In any case, and with all that in mind, 7% desiring a book because of the cover alone is actually rather spectacular. 

There's a good piece on cover art - specifically for genre books - in Uncanny. I'm afraid I act as a bit of a spoiler, but more compelling, creative arguments are made by art directors like Irene Gallo and Lauren Panepinto. 

Other bits...

60% of people are happy (or very happy) to receive emails. The rise of the newsletter is a trend in evidence everywhere right now. Again, I'd be curious what the factors are behind that - being grumpy, I wonder if there's a rising distrust in social media, based on both the conversation being more politicised and the platforms initiating dodgy changes. Or it could just be that social is now the interwebs, and we're all looking for new ways to recapture the sense of personalised recommendation? I've seen lots of pieces about the consequences rise of the newsletter (all concluding with HAVE ONE), but nothing decent explaining theories why. Any thoughts?

I've seen the 'reading cycle' data before, and I still think it is fascinating. People do use Goodreads to find new books. But people, being people, are more interested in speaking than listening. Setting aside the 'do everything' crowd, you've got twice as many reviewers as readers. That seems untenable. GOD GAVE US TWO EARS AND ONE MOUTH, PEOPLE. Says the blogger.

6% of Goodreads users do have their own separate blog as well. And 20% are blitzing their bookfeelz across all social media. Yet, all things considered, 62% of Goodreads users are still more likely to recommend a book in person (I'm counting the 'scream at strangers' bit as 'in person' as well) vs 38% via social media (incl. Goodreads).

My gut feel is that this - looping back up towards the top of this piece - shows where Goodreads fits on the spectrum of 'typical readers'. If you consider the pointy end of pyramid, your immersed mega-readers of the 'blogosphere' (hi!) are 100% online recs, your Goodreads reader is 38% online recs, and your actual real base-of-the-pyramid reader is 100% 'telling someone in person'. 

Basically, there are a lot of people (including me) whose instinctive response is to blast their opinion to complete strangers on the internet. And they're a valuable part of the marketing machine, but we probably shouldn't confuse them with, or think that they are representative of, everyone.

What do you think? Am I giving Goodreads too much credit? Or not enough?