For anyone struggling with choosing the perfect literary present this holiday season, there’s a large, vocal, and opinionated group that just might be able to help: the more than one million subscribers to the Books category on Reddit, the popular social media Web site. As one users asks, “I am looking for a good history book for a Christmas gift... any suggestions?” The book discussions are far-flung and varied—other prompts include, “How do you decide when to stop reading a book?” and “In your opinion, who is the best-written ‘bad guy’?”
Reddit was established in 2005 by entrepreneurs Steve Huffman and Alexis Ohanian, and it boasts more than five billion page views and over 90 million unique visitors per month. The company, which bills itself as “the front page of the Internet,” serves as a platform for Web-based communities, which gather in vast subcategories, known as subreddits, to share images, articles, and post topics of conversation. The Books subreddit, referred to by Redditors as /r/books, is now one of the most robust channels on the site, with 40,000 new subscribers signing up each week. In July, the Books and Television categories replaced Politics and Atheism as “default” subreddits—those identified by the company as the biggest, most visible communities in the network, based on traffic, number of new subscribers, and general activity levels.
“/R/books is really becoming one of the largest book-based communities on the Web,” said Victoria Taylor, Reddit’s director of communications. The Books subreddit has split off into deeper, niched communities; subcategories devoted to science fiction, horror, and fantasy genres are especially popular, and there is an entire subreddit dedicated to the Kindle, and yet another to libraries.
Books even has its own official book club, moderated by a group of subscribers. The club’s roughly 12,000 members vote on the monthly picks; December’s Modern Book of the Month selection is One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez, and the Big Read is Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote. The club’s Project Gutenberg Book of the Month, which members select from the titles in the Project Gutenberg catalogue of free e-book downloads, is James Joyce’s Dubliners.
The Books subreddit is not only a gathering place for like-minded book lovers—it’s also, in the direct-to-consumer era, emerging as a valuable promotional and fan-engagement tool for publishers and authors alike. Ask Me Anything (AMA) is a popular series across Reddit in which members conduct interviews with various subjects, including public figures like President Barack Obama. Major authors are beginning to enlist—R.L. Stine’s AMA, posted in the larger AMA community, prompted over 7,000 comments; Dan Brown’s interview, featured in Books, generated over 1,500. A recent AMA with And the Mountains Echoed author Khaled Hosseini resulted in nearly 2,600 questions and comments from Reddit users. Because AMAs are designed to raise awareness around a particular project, such as new books and promotions, each author is free to drive users to an official site, or to retailers that carry his or her book.
The forum has also proven useful for self-published authors. Travis Bughi sold over 3,000 copies of his self-published title, Beyond the Plains, during his AMA in August, despite the fact that he was also offering the book for free. “Self-published authors are leveraging Reddit to do the same thing that traditionally published authors would,” said Taylor, adding that the Reddit community seeks to help aspiring authors in subreddits like Writing and Keepwriting. Reddit even brought on Elda Rotor, editorial director of Penguin Classics, for an AMA. “She helped a lot of amateur authors and other people who are looking to break into the publishing industry,” explained Taylor.
Whether it operates as a virtual salon for bookworms or an online q&a forum with some of the biggest writers in the business, the community’s overall success and escalating growth, according to Taylor, can be attributed to something not yet disrupted by the digital revolution: a passion for reading. The Books subreddit is “based on personal opinions and personal passions,” she said. “And when those can be challenged, it drives everything to new levels.”