Interview with Patrick Brown, Director of Community at Goodreads

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Last month, OCLC announced that it was expanding its strategic partnership with Goodreads in order to help provide greater visibility for libraries, including the ability for libraries to create their own library group pages. After the announcement, I had a chance to chat with Patrick Brown, the Director of Community for Goodreads, to learn a bit more about his role there, the OCLC partnership, and (most important) what he's currently reading.

Andy Havens, OCLC Coop Blog Editor: First of all, thanks for joining us, Patrick, and thanks for all the great work behind the scenes helping to get the new library partnership program going.

Patrick Brown, Director of Community for Goodreads: You're very welcome... on both counts.

Andy: Tell us a bit about your role at Goodreads. What does a "Director of Community" do there.

Patrick: Well, community is very important to any organization that relies on its users for content as well as popularity. It's been nice working with OCLC, as we clearly have that in common. As far as the daily grind, I work with authors, publishers, bookstores and libraries to help people build activities and excitement around books, stores or institutions where reading is important.

Andy: That sounds like a lot of work... and, frankly, a lot of fun, too.

Patrick: Both, yes. I've been in the book business on-and-off for more than a decade, and I'm a huge reader myself, so this is an ideal job in many ways. I get to wear a lot of hats... direct interaction with users and partners, some work with our customer care team, and I get to generate some content for the site through blog posts and tweets. I also get to do some work with data analytics about our statistics, growth, number of reviews, etc.

Andy: I've also noticed that you have a pretty cool Pinterest page going on.

Patrick: Yeah. People like to browse for books using cover art, of course, and Pinterest is a neat way to do a lot of that quickly.

Andy: You've been with Goodreads since early 2010, right?

Patrick: Yes. Before that I worked for a couple independent booksellers... Book Soup in West Hollywood and Vroman's in Pasadena. I worked in the newsstand area at first, selling newspapers, magazines, cigarettes, etc. I moved into the store eventually, became a shift manager, and then a store manager.

Andy: So you're used to working up-close with readers?

Patrick: Yes. Though that was at Book Soup. Vroman's was mostly online. So that's where I got into marketing, social media, e-commerce, blogs, etc. I got to know the online book world, and eventually became a Goodreads member... and then came to work here.

Andy: What about Goodreads made you want to work there?

Patrick: As a member, I found that I really connected with the site's core mission--connecting people to books. Doing that by delivering recommendations, reviews and social connections at an enormous scale really appealed to me. There are things you can do with lots of data and user feedback that just aren't possible elsewhere.

Andy: It is a pretty specific focus.

Patrick: Exactly. And I think that's good. In talking with Goodreads' people here before I came to work here, I found that they were very focused on discovery - helping people find new books. Which is, as anyone who has worked in the book world can tell you, an incredibly satisfying feeling.

Andy: Which brings us to Goodreads and libraries...

Patrick: We've always been partners with libraries. We share some very similar missions. And we've been a tool for libraries for years. Librarians are using it personally, of course. And for research and readers' advisory programs. We've been looking for ways to build on that history and make it more visible and explicit.

Andy: And the OCLC partnership is a step in that direction?

Patrick: Of course. WorldCat provides us with a great way to send people to the library for books they want. It gives us really great coverage... you almost never see a book on Goodreads that can't be found in WorldCat. The service works well with our site and is easy for our members, too, being able to click right through to libraries.

Andy: Plus there's the scale issue you brought up earlier.

Patrick: Yes. WorldCat puts us in touch with many libraries at once. Without a partner like OCLC, there's definitely a scale problem when working with libraries. Plus, it helps in terms of communications. Getting out to visit or even send emails to hundreds or thousands of libraries would be almost impossible for us. Having both library data and attention aggregated through OCLC is a very powerful multiplier for us. As an example, we've seen a huge pick up in the number of votes for the Goodreads Choice Awards this year. Now, the majority of that growth is due to the fact that we now have 13 million members, double the 6.5 million members we had at the end of last year, but we also think that some of that increased traffic was from libraries telling their users about the awards, creating in-library displays of the final round selections--things like that.

Andy: I voted. And was pleased to see that one of my choices, Year Zero by Rob Reid, was a finalist. And now for some fun questions. What's the most surprising thing you've found since going to work at Goodreads?

Patrick: Well... coming from the world of indie booksellers, I had an idea of one kind of reader. Someone pretty much like me, who reads literary fiction, some nonfiction, film or art books. At Goodreads what I found out is that the sheer diversity of the "reading community" is astounding. There really is a reader for every book. There were so many book and authors, popular and otherwise, that were just not on my radar. Getting a bird's eye view of the entire market has been really interesting. You hear about the Long Tail of course... but to see that there are huge numbers of people reading really distinct and specific titles each year... That just makes me even more excited about the industry. It fulfills the idea that you can build an audience for any kind of book.

Andy: Any advice for readers out there? Patrick: Well, obviously... Give Goodreads a try. It may feel daunting at first glance... the sheer number of books and users... but if you give it even five minutes, you'll be having fun and finding great new stuff to read. And if that's your thing, Goodreads is for you. For people who describe themselves as "readers," it's nice to have a social site that's explicitly about what interests us. And that makes our users excited and ready to talk. To each other and to us. Which is just awesome.

Andy: OK. Last question... what are you reading right now?

Patrick: Mister Penumbra's 24 hour Bookstore. It's a thriller for people who love to read. And another finalist in the Goodreads Choice awards. And since I worked in a bookstore... picking this one up was a no brainer. Also, I'm going to do be doing a live video chat with the author. So that's another perk of the job.

Andy: Nice. We'll look forward to watching that video, and again... thanks for taking the time to talk to us.

Patrick: No problem. Really enjoyed it.

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