Hardcover

Social discovery for series book lovers.

Under 10 Employees
Multiple Founders
Founders Code
AI
APIs
Books
Community
Education

Readers and authors deserve better than Goodreads. Hardcover is an ambitious project with one goal: to replace Goodreads. Also, spite for Amazon.

October 1, 2021 Hardcover Internal MVP Released!

After 5 months of building a team, user research, and book data, we've reached a big milestone - our internal MVP!

This phase is a big step for us. It means that the application is in a state for the team to use it. Right now it's still very rough, with plenty of bugs. The goal of this internal MVP release is for the team that's been working on Hardcover to hit it with everything they have – and create bug reports in GitHub for everything that doesn't work as expected.

So far all of the bugs have been quick ones to fix. Like most products at this phase there are also some interactions we realize didn't "feel" right once we started using them.

One example of that is our List page. A reader can make a list of any books organized into a list. This can be favorites, books they want to read in a genre – any grouping the reader wants.

To simplify things from a code standpoint, we created a separate edit page for lists. You head to the edit page, make any changes and can reorder the books in the list from here.

Using this though, we quickly realized that this should all be on the list page readers see, but with additional options for the list owner.

Those recommended enhancements are relatively few – something I credit our awesome research and design initiatives with.

So what's next? We're hoping to fix all bugs in the next week or two then start letting people use the app! For now we're going to allow anyone to sign up to use Hardcover, but require a promo code to unlock the app after signing in. This is simply to limit the number of people using it until we can work out the most pressing bugs and make sure it'll be an experience we can be proud of – or at least one that actually works.

If you'd like be notified when we open up, please join the Hardcover mailing list: https://hardcover.app/

September 7, 2021 What's in a Reading Goal?

[This post has some images in it and can be read at https://hardcover.app/blog/whats-in-a-reading-goal I've also included the text here]

In the first round of research and development on Hardcover we focused on creating the baseline functionality that we’ll need for a book website. Things like a lot of books, the ability to track what you’re reading, write and read reviews, and to import your books from Goodreads.

Reading Goals

One feature I wasn’t expecting to be on that list? Reading Goals.

Turns out people reallllly love using the Reading Challenge feature on Goodreads. Almost without fail everyone we talked to sets a reading challenge for the year and works towards it.

After hearing this for about the 50th time, we realized we should try to get that feature into our earlier MVP. At least that way we could iterate on it.

On Goodreads, reading goals are simple. For the year, you specify how many “books” you want to read in the current year. As you mark books as read during the year, you’ll make progress on it. If you complete that number of books, it’s complete. That’s it.

As someone who reads books, listens to books, and reads comics, manga, and short stories, this hasn’t worked well for me. “Rhythm of War’ (1,232 pages) counts the same as a single issue of comic like “Monstress” (which is an amazing comic by the way).

We knew we wanted to do something a little more advanced – but while keeping the simplicity of Goodreads approach.

Just like Goodreads, you can just specify a single field – the number – and create the goal.

The feature readers wanted the most for Goodreads goal system? The ability to set a page number goal. Many readers were having my same issue. What they really wanted was a metric that couldn’t be gamed by picking shorter books. Having a page goal makes it more accurate.

Within that date drop down there’s also the option to specify a date for a goal. While we believe most goals will be for the entire year, teachers could use goals for giving students summer reading, setting your own monthly (or semi-annual) goals, or if you have a goal that’s going to take more than a year to get to.

Let’s Talk Advanced Goals

These couple of options will likely cover the vast majority of readers. But we’re building Hardcover for serious readers. The readers we’ve talked to want to do more than just read a lot of books: they want to read books outside of their comfort zone, discover new voices and genres, and even be reminded to challenge themselves.

I decided to have a little fun and create the system I always wanted. Something that will allow setting much more in depth goals based on exactly what I’m trying to read more of.

There’s a lot to unpack here. Initially I shared this screen in the Hardcover Discord and people were very rightly overwhelmed. Having the “basic goal” setup to fixed that. But for people who want the full kitchen sink they can jump in and create a goal that’s just right for them.

Some of these drop downs are doing a lot of work. For example: the “From” option allows for choosing books from a list you’ve created (Summer Reading List?) or multiple genres.

The “Written By” option allows for filtering characteristics of the authors. This would have been helpful for me back in 2018 when I realized fewer than 10% of the books I read were by women (that was up to 30% in 2019 after I realized, which is a good start but there’s more room to go).

We’re still working on the wording and options in these fields. All of these would allow selecting multiple – multiple genres, multiple races/ethnicities and multiple sexualities.

There’s a lot to it, but we’re really excited to see how people use this!

Here are some examples of goals that you could set on Hardcover:

• Read 12 books in 2021.
• Read 10,000 pages in 2021.
• Read 50 books on “NPR’s Top 50 Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Last Decade” by the end of 2022.
• Read or listen to 25 books written by women in 2021.
• Read or listen to 10 poems written by black authors in 2021.
• Read 100 graphic novels by the end of 2022.
• Listen to 10 books by LGBTQI+ authors in 2021.

While there’s an option to create multiple goals, we don’t think most people should need to create more than 2-5 at most. After that it can get a little stressful. Just remember: your time is limited, so setting a clear goal is better than setting 10 goals you’re not working towards.

That’s our biggest concern with this goal system: that it’ll distract people from finishing 1 goal and instead spread attention across multiple.

For now, we’ll trust the users and research we’ve done and iterate accordingly!

June 6, 2021 Launched the Hardcover Blog

tl;dr: We now have a blog on Hardcover at https://hardcover.app/ On it we'll be sharing our progress as we build the site, findings from research and a look behind the curtain as we create whatever Hardcover becomes.

For years – decades even – I’ve read stories about people building startups. That included popular articles on Digg, founder stories on Hacker News, growth stories on IndieHackers, episodes of Shark Tank, Gimlets StartUp Podcast, and the occasional post that makes the rounds on Twitter or Reddit.

I read them all. (Canny.io’s blog was one of my favorites during their early days).

There’s something that resonates so well about blogs during this scrappy state. I could put myself in their shoes and live vicariously. “Yeah, that’s a good decision”. “No! Why are you focusing on that? There’s so much more potential with that other problem!”

It allowed me to have some of the feel of being in that phase of a project with none of the risk.

During most of that time, I was working at a startup myself – Code School. I joined as an early employee back in 2012 a few months after the first lines of code were written. Over the next 3 years (until we were acquired) I got my first real taste of being an early startup employee.

What I loved most was how much you could learn! Every new avenue or problem for the company meant a new problem to solve. The technical problems are obvious ones. How do we run code in the browser in the time before Docker? How do we secure it and prevent server crashes? How do we check people’s code?

Besides those niche-specific topics, everything else was new too. How do you organize teams around innovation? How do you develop a company culture of growth and collaboration? How do you ensure you’re working on the right thing.

Do we use a Mom Test approach, or do we use a Sprint? Do we issue blocks of equity to founders, or do we use a dynamic equity split with the Slicing Pie model?

We’re tackling those questions one at a time as a team. This blog will be the place to share those updates and keep you (who I can only assume is interested in startups at this stage) up to date.

Where We’re Focusing Right Now
After about ~20 interviews with people to understand how they used Goodreads, we’ve started to see a handful of themes stand out. As vast as Goodreads is, there are only a few features that just about everything uses:

  • Research books that are mentioned elsewhere (Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, NY Times, etc).
  • Track what books readers want to read (To Read Shelf)
  • Track when they started or finished a book.
  • Rate and possibly review the book when they’re done.
  • See what books their friends are reading – and if they enjoyed them.

That’s pretty much it. Goodreads has about 7,465 other features, but the vast majority of people are using some subset of these features.

That doesn’t mean Hardcover will be just this. There are other problems readers face that Goodreads doesn’t solve – book discovery, finding your next book to read, and social validation of books just to name a few.

Armed with both those problems and the most commonly used features, we’ve created a prototype and begun showing it to users. As much as I want to share it here, we want to see people's reactions when we show it to them for the first time. If someone sees something and has time to think about it, their reaction is going to be completely different from a first impression. Part of good product research is nailing that first impression.

Once we’ve iterated on our prototype and have a clear direction in mind, we’ll definitely share some screens here.

If you’re interested in seeing it before that, the best way is to sign up for our email list! We’re always looking for new people to talk to, and it’s your feedback is what will help us build a better product.

May 10, 2021 We have a name: Hardcover!

We're still just getting started on user research, but one thing has stood out from ~10 user interviews: it's not just us who has problems with Goodreads.

The hunt for a name started. Something that would resonate with avid readers, but not be a turnoff to audiobook listeners, Kindle readers, or anyone else who considers themselves a reader.

One site whose name inspired me is Letterboxd. Letterboxd is a social network for movie fans where you can track what you watch and see what your friends watch. The name itself has roots in film history that not everyone will know immediately.

We explored some similar ideas for books. BookEnd? BookBee? Pagely? BitLit? We had a long list. Then we stumbled on one that worked:

Hardcover.

A nice single dictionary word, no established brand, and an available .app tld. We registered and put up a landing page.

https://hardcover.app/

You can now sign up for the newsletter. We're using Sendy to manage the newsletter – which is basically free since I already had it setup for another site. If you've never used Sendy (https://sendy.co/), it's an insanely good platform for sending emails. You host the code and can manage multiple brands (on multiple domains) from a single installation. That allows your newsletter readers to only see your domain in their links.

This next week looks like more of the same: user research, competitive research, and data research. I have 4 interviews scheduled, and the rest of the team has a few as well.

We're also starting to research the data side of this project. Getting a clean database of millions of book editions will be no small task. I'm working through how we might manage this to understand the costs and people required to have the data we'd need for this project.

Site note: if you know of any good recommendations for book data, please let me know in the comments.

May 1, 2021 Untitled Book Site Kickoff Meeting

The last week has been a whirlwind. Rather than doing this project on my own, I'm set on building a team to work on it. With that in mind, I posted on Reddit ( https://www.reddit.com/r/cofounder/comments/mxrycu/usatech20_fullstack_developer_looking_for_design/ ) looking for a design co-founder.

About a dozen people replied or messaged me saying they were interested. I got on a call with a few of them and was surprised to find 3 people that were perfect for an initial founding team. Along with my and my wife, we have a solid 5-person foundation.

We all met up on May 1st to officially kick off this project. Nathan, our UI/UX designer, led us through a user journey exercise. The result of which was a direction for us to head with our initial round of user research.

With that in mind, the 5 of us are reaching out to Goodreads users to conduct user research this week.

April 23, 2021 I'm Building a Goodreads Competitor out of Spite

As a joke, I tweeted out a random thought: that I was annoyed at Goodreads and should make a competitor out of spite for Amazon. A "spite site", as Larry David would say.

I've used Goodreads since 2009. Every book I've read since then has been tracked, as well as over 400 books on my "to read" list that I've added over the years. During that time Goodreads has barely changed – at least for anything I use. The only change that's impacted me in the last year has been the removal of their API which further locked in people using their service.

One of my personal goals for this year is to give less money to Amazon. We've switched to buying local or direct when we can, canceled Amazon prime, and even moved some web hosting off EC2/S3 (that was the most annoying). As an avid reader and audiobook listener, moving off of Amazon for books has been the hardest part. That would even mean switching off Goodreads – if I even could.

I began searching for alternatives. There are a LOT of sites out there trying to be the next Goodreads. A look at Product Hunt and Indiehackers shows there's no shortage of people who have attempted this exact same idea.

Some are seriously impressive, but so far none have taken over. By my calculations, the total market share of all non-Goodreads book organization sites is maybe 2% of GR's total monthly visitors – and 1.5% of that is LibraryThing. That last 0.5% is where all the innovation in the online book community is happening!

I'm just spinning up on this idea, but I'm excited to see where it goes.

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Readers and authors deserve better than Goodreads. Hardcover is an ambitious project with one goal: to replace Goodreads. Also, spite for Amazon.