“Book reviews in newspapers, well, those are gone,” the young Web entrepreneur told me in the most matter-of-fact way. “Independent bookstores are almost gone. Chains will probably be gone soon. It’s all happening online now.”
That might have been ho-hum stuff coming from just any techie. But the pronouncements were being made by a descendent of a print-and-ink empire.
Otis Chandler made no apologies. His great-great-great-grandfather may have founded the Los Angeles Times. His grandfather, another Otis, pushed the newspaper to renown. But this member of the Chandler family, generation six, has moved on.
He has built one of the biggest sites on the Internet for book lovers, one that has been growing steadily since its inception in 2006. Goodreads.com hosts reading clubs, gives away books, sponsors author chats, offers literature quizzes and generally dissects and celebrates writing. The website has 3.5 million members. It has more than 1.7 million unique visitors a month, a 65% jump from a year ago, according to the Nielsen Co.
Chandler, 32, has built a substantial audience and considerable good will. But he must confront the central challenge that faces most other media companies, old and new: how to make money off the audiences they have built on the Web.
I met with Young Otis this week in his bare-bones office in Santa Monica. It’s upstairs from a liquor store and next to an acupuncturist, the same spot, according to the landlord, where Lakers owner Jerry Buss nurtured a fledgling real estate business.
When I asked whether Goodreads had turned a profit, Chandler didn’t answer directly. “I’ll just say we are doing well,” said the soft-spoken Stanford graduate, who pecked at his laptop, which sat atop a folding table in a room with mostly bare walls.
“I think we are doing very well as an advertising platform for books,” he continued, “and I have other ideas to increase that. To be a really big media business, I think you need other [revenue] streams. We have several other ideas to create those.”
Young Otis, who founded the company with his wife, Elizabeth Khuri Chandler, a former Times staffer, wouldn’t say where that money might be found. But he sounded confident that it lurked out there, just waiting to be mined.
Chandler said Goodreads has worked with all the major publishing houses to promote books and authors in a variety of ways. That can mean banner ads standard on the Web, “sponsored” links like the ones that power Google, and other options — like paid mentions for a book or author in one of the site’s polls, quizzes or in its monthly e-mailed newsletter.
The start-up has 10 employees and announced in December that it landed $2 million in venture capital, adding to its initial round of funding.
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