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Why do we need an ebook alternative to Goodreads?

Giving readers more choice of where to record their libraries, whether ebooks or print, will increase competition and raise the bar for what readers expect to get for their money and time.

Libreture

For 14 years, Goodreads has been the home for almost all reader-related book information. Filled with books, reader reviews, ratings and lists, it’s where readers get their information about what to read next. 45 million of them to date.

Readers aren’t the only people to benefit from Goodreads: authors can run giveaways, advertise their books to get on top of the market, and keep their followers up to date on their latest news.

So Goodreads is a perfect meeting place for authors and readers and, of course, books. Hundreds of millions of book listings, all linked back to their home at Amazon – and a few other sites, most of which are owned by Amazon – where they can be bought with the click of a button.

How can anyone provide the kind of alternative to beat that? Why would they?

Well, they can, and they should – and we are – and here’s why.

Readers are looking for an alternative to Goodreads

If you type “alternative to Goodreads” into a search engine, you immediately get thousands of results either asking for or providing suggestions for a replacement service. Not only are readers actively searching for an alternative to Goodreads; they’ve got about 1000% more options than they had in 2006 before Goodreads was launched.

Many services try to recreate Goodreads and others are trying something different. Some concentrate on recommendations. Others on simply recording book information. Most offer the tracking of reading activity at various levels of complexity. Almost all appear to offer the ability to import your reading activity from Goodreads itself. But one thing that has been missing is a dedicated service for ebooks.

We need many alternatives to Goodreads

Goodreads is part of Amazon. As well as Goodreads, Amazon owns a number of book-related services. It publishes and sells Kindle ebooks, paper books, Audible audiobooks, and also sells paper books through Abebooks and Book Depository. While this may just look like great business sense, it is not a sign of a healthy book industry.

Monopolies such as Amazon lead to stagnation, where innovation becomes risky and choice becomes limited. As readers, we need more choice, not less.

Call me an idealist, but I’d like to suggest that having many alternatives to Goodreads is actually a good thing. Giving readers the choice of where to keep their libraries (whether ebooks, print or both) will increase competition across these so-called ‘social cataloguing’ sites, and hopefully raise the bar for what readers expect to get for their money and time.

If multiple services provide reading tracking and cataloguing, they are forced to stand out from the crowd to attract customers. Their additional features that contribute to their USPs (unique selling points) should really draw the right readers to the right service.

Maybe you read only print books. Or perhaps you like to show off your collection visually. You might be a more competitive type of person, so graphs and other fancy visualisations of your reading tracking might be just what you need. Or you could be someone who reads only ebooks.

Goodreads doesn't really like indie ebooks

Ebooks are the much-maligned add-on to the book world. Traditional publishers claim ebooks don’t sell well. Readers complain ebooks don’t smell right. But ebooks represent the current pinnacle of democratization of book selling. They make reading more accessible for everyone.

Not only do authors no longer need a publisher, when they produce ebooks, it costs them only their time. They command both price and platform, and can sell them in multiple locations. Ebooks are good for authors, good for readers (price and accessibility) and terrible for all the middle men in publishing.

But ebooks present a difficulty for Goodreads and similar services to Goodreads. Unless the ebooks are sold or distributed through centralised channels, the data just isn’t there.

Readers that primarily consume independent ebooks, who want to use sites like Goodreads, are left with the option of either continually inputting information about their ebooks (a huge burden of time), or quitting the situation altogether. Doesn’t sound like much of a choice.

Let’s look at a few more problems generated by new apps and services trying to recreate Goodreads.

It’s hard to find a reliable source of book data

The easiest way for readers to add books to their library is if the book data already exists. Most services use an external source of book information, such as the ISBN database; book distributors, like Ingram; or in some cases, Goodreads.

All of these services end up depending on a third party for their book information and as we’ve seen recently with Goodreads removing its book data feed (its API), this is a precarious position. A number of services are already affected by this and may go out of business.

But the problem for readers of independent ebooks goes one step further than this. Right from the get-go, their book data often just isn’t there.

Missing data means missing books

If an alternative to Goodreads can’t find the books you add – for example, some services such as Litsy have had problems finding independent books – the book can’t be added. A circular argument, sure, but the truth is no data, incomplete database, no book.

Some services allow you to add missing books manually, but this can lead to duplicate entries, not to mention a lot of work for readers who prefer indie books and ebooks.

Indie ebooks are an afterthought

Almost the entire traditional publishing industry, and a good section of independent publishing treat ebooks as an afterthought, and Goodreads was no exception. But there are so many ebooks available, many of them self-published, standalone and without a print version. Ebooks sold through Gumroad, Payhip, Itch.io and many other digital marketplaces usually don't have ISBNs, but they’re still ebooks, still valid, and often high quality titles by well-known authors.

Again, no data, no book in your records. An incomplete library.

Identifying the correct edition is a headache

Different book editions often have significant disparities. Different covers, differing content, regional differences, ebook and print editions and more. This was always a major issue for Goodreads, and the fact that Storygraph has dozens of volunteer ‘librarians’ implies it’s also a problem for them.

If the book you own doesn’t look like the one in your Goodreads-alternative library, it may well be a completely different item. What even is the point of recording your books and reading activity if it’s inaccurate?

Making money from the service isn’t a given

One of the issues all alternatives to Goodreads will have is where they make their money. A sustainable, viable business model is essential for all businesses. Some use subscriptions, a good way to get readers to pay as they go, and these usually generate feature-led tiers that get better the more money spent. Others may sell advertising space (with all the issues that implies) or use affiliate links to online bookstores. Goodreads uses both of these last two.

How the service makes its money is a good thing to consider if you’re about to use it in any big way, because two things are impacted by that:

  1. Your reader experience of the service – alternatives to Goodreads that use advertising or affiliate links are always going to be tempted to push their sponsored books higher than the others, and this can affect which books you see.
  2. How long it is likely to survive - if you have spent time adding all your books and correcting your library, you want it to be there for a good long time. Alternatives to Goodreads that rely on their own independent means of money generation are likely to be more sustainable in the long run than leaning on third-party affiliate programs that could be cut off at any time.

Problems of sustainability

When it comes to considering sustainability, what we’re talking about here is how those apps support the book industry. How do they support authors to keep writing? How do they support readers to keep discovering new books?

Affiliate links are not truly sustainable

Apps and services that use affiliate links to lead straight back to the big bookstores are not as sustainable for the industry as it might appear. As a reader, you put the work in, input the book information and provide your opinion via reviews and lists. But do you really benefit from that work?

The service begins to be built around the books that will gain the most money, rather than the interests of the readers using the system. Are those books likely to be the lower priced ebooks, or the higher priced print books? Traditionally published books or cheaper self-published novels?

Bias towards the major players is baked into affiliate programs. It works for some readers, but not for others. Readers of independent ebooks are left out in the cold yet again.

Big bookstores hamper discovery

Although huge bookstores are great for choice in theory, they’re saddled with issues. Big business favours the ‘efficiency’ of algorithms, mainly showing readers sponsored books and super-popular ones. But some readers aren’t so invested in ideas such as ‘because you read x’ and ‘similar to what you’ve bought’. Those who read widely, those who read a lot, are more likely to want greater variety.

Algorithms do nothing for book discovery. Good for middle-man profit, though, no doubt selling millions of units of a few titles.

Why is book discovery so important to sustainability? Because a healthy book industry relies on readers buying books. If all the millions of readers buy only 5 books a year, and most of those readers buy the same 5 books … That’s not an industry; it’s a book club.

Favouring print books

Traditionally published print books are more widely accessed by readers, and are therefore more favoured by alternatives to Goodreads, but ebooks have advantages for the industry that are not widely discussed.

For example, independent authors get more money from ebooks than they do from print.

Authors who earn more per book earn more overall. If authors earn enough money from the sale of their books, they can continue to write. More authors writing means more books – new books. More books means more to read. More to buy.

This is what we mean when we talk about ‘sustainability’ in the book industry. Goodreads alternatives need to address what Goodreads lacks. And one of the lacks is ebooks. Ebooks can help improve the book industry and that can only be a good thing, regardless of how they smell.

What are the main alternatives to Goodreads?

A spreadsheet and some dedication

If all you want to do is record the books you own and whether or not you’ve read them, the simplest solution is to either use a paper journal, or create a spreadsheet or database and input the information. It’s not glamorous, and won’t help you discover new books, but your data will be private and safe, and you can order the information as you see fit.

Online cataloguing services

If you prefer to use an online service, LibraryThing, The Storygraph, Litsy and Readng are a few interesting contenders, and each have relative upsides and downs. LibraryThing is probably the closest to Goodreads in looks as well as features and has been around for a while, Storygraph has a VIP subscription fee for additional features, a good recommendation engine and plenty of complicated-looking reading tracking; Litsy is pretty – reminiscent of Instagram – and looks fun and easy to use. Readng is new and seeing a lot of development.

Online reading services

Online reading has been a somewhat neglected activity in Western publishing, but with the $600 million purchase of Wattpad by South Korean firm, Naver, that may soon change. The upsides are that online reading is super-convenient and easy to access (and monetise). Just take a look at the webcomic subscription service, Tapas.

An ebook alternative to Goodreads

This is where my own solution comes into play. Libreture offers readers not only a place to record accurate ebook information and track reading activity, but also:

  • No need to input information. Your ebook files do all the work, but you can always edit details later.
  • A back up and archive of all your ebooks with a stunning library showing off the covers of your beautiful books
  • Easy book discovery, with direct links to independent bookstores for each ebook
  • Easy access to your books on any device, no matter where you are, and an OPDS feed so you can access your books from any compatible reading app or service.

Give Libreture a try

Libreture was built by a reader for readers. Privacy and security are both important to me, and with that comes your data safety. Unlike Goodreads, your data stays with us. You and your books are safe with Libreture.

The idea behind Libreture was to create an online library of ebooks that supported the independent book industry – publishers, authors and readers. It’s sustainable, ethical and fairly priced.

Join Libreture now and give the free account a spin. If you like it and you get it, please let your reading friends know about it! There’s so much more to reading than Goodreads.

 

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