I'm a reader, a consumer of books. I also write non-fiction and recently tried my first foray into fiction with a novel, Archangels: Rise of the Jesuits, a thriller about a Jesuit takeover of the Vatican's finances. To promote the novel, I put up a passive author's profile on Goodreads and used its Giveaway program. Readers enter a contest to win a free book offered by publishers or authors.
Last week, I offered five books to U.S.-based readers and two to the UK. Goodreads gave me a hyperlink to the names of winners, so I could send them a courtesy message about estimated delivery dates. I clicked on one of the links for a U.S. winner, and the winner's blog mentioned at the top he was also the winner of another book.
Goodreads apparently uses an algorithm to determine winners at its discretion. A total of 346 people in the U.S. entered my short weekend contest for Archangels. If only 50 people entered for the other book, the odds of winning both books are around 2.3 percent, if this were a random draw. If 100 people entered the other contest, the chance of winning both books drops to 1.3 percent. If more entered the other contest, it drops even lower. (Update: This particular winner is a long-time active user, as were several other winners.)
This doesn't seem what readers, publishers or authors have in mind for a contest. Readers new to Goodreads should be aware the Giveaways aren't random draws, and in fact seem so far from random that the odds are very much stacked against them. Goodreads' algorithm seems very much skewed to reward a minority of readers, so the larger reader population appears disadvantaged.
What are the odds of me -- someone who loves to analyze these things -- discovering this on my first foray into Goodreads? That's pretty funny in itself, but it gets even funnier.
In the UK, 71 people (I have no idea if any are multiple account holders) entered the contest for two books. One of my gift books immediately went on sale on Amazon.co.uk by a "winner." (Update: It has been verified that the winner was the reseller.) If the algorithm heavily allocates to active users, then authors should be aware UK giveaways may be going to resellers, not readers.
Goodreads Doesn't Appear International, Not That There's Anything Wrong With That
For giveaways, Goodreads has a drop down menu that can give authors the impression it has a lot of readers in a lot of countries. My data suggests that's not so. Readers seem primarily U.S.-based with some participation in the UK and Canada. Continental European presence, for example, seems virtually non-existent.
How did I come up with that? This weekend, I'm doing an experiment. I'm giving one book each in separate promotions to the U.S., Canada, UK, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Brazil, and India. (Update: These separate promotions were targeted and exclusive to residents of each country. For example, an Italian would win the Italy contest and have a better chance of winning since number of entrants is much lower. My interest was in reaching an Italian reader, not a non-Italian who would likely win a contest targeted to "all countries." By separating promotions, I guaranteed a resident reader of specific targeted countries would win.) But early results show that by Saturday mid-day U.S. time -- after continental Europe was up for the entire day -- each continental European country had exactly one person requesting the book. But anyone, including an international bookseller, could put up one account to snag one book in each of the continental European countries. I personally don't buy that one person in each country entered the competition -- although it's possible, and I hope the book will go to a genuine reader. But I'm not too hopeful of that as I'll explain later. (Update: Several of the books have been verified to have gone to genuine readers.)
In any case, Goodreads' international reader participation appears very tiny. There's nothing wrong with that, and Goodreads has made no claim to have a large international reader participation (as far as I know), but publishers and authors might want to be aware when they do promotions. Update: If you separate countries as I did, you'll find that your old promotions can't be deleted and your new one's will exceed your ability to view the promotions. Mine totaled eleven, and you can only view ten total. There's no mechanism to view a "page 2" or to scroll to see your eleventh promotion. It will be approved, but invisible to you, so you cannot view the progress. You must hunt around, click through to "Giveaways" and look for your Giveaways on the right rail, away from your Author's Dashboard. I called this to Goodreads' attention, but it has not yet solved the problem.
Amazon and Goodreads: Giveaways to Resellers?
My novel was originally an eBook. Just recently I offered print-on-demand via Amazon affiliate CreateSpace. Since the book is brand new, I can see exactly how many copies were produced, and I shut down distribution to all except Amazon. But immediately after the Goodreads' giveaway books were delivered, books showed up for sale as "used" on Amazon, but are listed as "new" in the U.S. The Amazon price is $12.99, and as of this writing, the six resellers are offering the book for $15.61, $16.23, 16.63, $34.41, $41.19, and $63.49 (plus $3.99 shipping). It's worth keeping in mind I offered five in the U.S. and one showed up for sale in the UK. One of those six on Amazon.com is offered through UK-based Amazon affiliate, the Book Depository. It's possible the resellers are supplying themselves via Amazon and not via Goodreads' giveaway program meant for readers. It could simply be a coincidence; what are the odds?
Amazon makes it easy for writers to self-publish, promote, and distribute through Amazon's network. Goodreads provides a nice venue for readers who enjoy social media and competes with Amazon in that area, but it seems to have hitched its wagon to Barnes & Noble, a company currently cutting stores and reducing overhead. Perhaps the phenomena I observed are related to some competitive belly-bumping.