First launched in summer 2013, FirstToRead is Penguin’s answer to how to get ARCs and Galleys into the hands of readers. Every few weeks, anyone with a pulse (who also happens to live in the United States) can enter a lottery to receive any of a dozen upcoming books. Readers earn points by interacting with the site, reading and reviewing the books they win, and can then spend those points to get even more books.
But here’s the thing that’s been driving me crazy, the site says almost nothing about how their point award system works. When I joined FirstToRead, I’d explore the site, and when I’d next log in, mysterious points would appear in mysterious quantities. And I just gotta know exactly how much when why what and where. Google, unfortunately, has been a complete disappointment in solving this mystery.
So, reader friends, here are my observations, in case you’ve also wondered:
- 100 for creating a FirstToRead profile
- 100 points for linking to Facebook
- 100 points for linking to Twitter
- 3 points for looking through a book’s description page
- 5 points for logging in
- 10 points for requesting a book
- 15 points for reading an excerpt
- 100 points for sharing an excerpt link on Twitter
- 100 points for sharing an excerpt link on Facebook
- 300 points for leaving a review
- 400 points for downloading a book for review
- No points for subscribing to Penguin’s newsletter under account settings
- No points for subscribing to receive updates about specific authors on a book’s page.
- ?? points for selecting genres under ‘Reader Preferences’
- ?? points for sharing the review on social media.
- ?? participating in surveys (I have not been invited to any surveys yet)
*The site has said they reserve the right to change their point distribution system at any time, so who knows how long these number stay accurate. Let me know if you’ve seen something different.*
- There appears to be a delay in point distribution (with the exception of the daily 5), which can make it hard to track how many points you’ve received for what, and even whether you’ve received them at all.
- When posting a review, there’s no way to include paragraph spacing. That design decision suggests the website architects prefer shorter, single-paragraph style responses to the books over the more lengthy forms of feedback.
- The @FirstToRead and Facebook account have been inactive since September 2015. The site itself was down for two full days during the workweek recently before it got fixed. Taken together, this suggests a dearth of dedicated staff, or that the site is fairly low on the priority totem. Not a problem in and of itself, but also means don’t expect rollouts of new features anytime soon.
- While the two social media accounts are unmonitored, the hashtag #FirstToRead and tweets to the account have kept up a steady stream due to the automated point system.
- When using points to buy yourself a guaranteed read, different point values (500 to 700 points) are assigned to different books, likely based on expected demand for any given book.
- With 100 points per tweet about an excerpt, you can rack up a ton of points incredibly quickly for very little effort, and then reserve any new release copy on offering…if you get there fast enough. Of the 100 copies available to readers, usually only 50 of them can be reserved.
- And anyway, trying to game the system doesn’t really serve anyone except Penguin’s promotional master plan.
The numbers game:
As of September 1, there have been 463 books posted to the site since the website first launched. Of the last 130 or so books, each book received an average of 28 reviews (yes, I counted. Don’t judge me). The least reviewed books still regularly receive about 12-14 reviews, while the most-reviewed books, like The City Bakers Guide To Country Living by Louise Miller, Thieving Weasels by Billy Taylor, saw rates in the mid to upper 50’s. First Comes Love by Emily Griffin got a whopping 72 (well done!).
If we assume that, on average, about 100 people receive advanced galleys through FirstToRead, this means the site regularly sees feedback rates of 20-40 percent. Not bad.
If you review through NetGalley, you’ll definitely see title overlap between the two sites. The good news: FirstToRead’s lottery system is open to all participants. On NetGalley, Penguin prefer bloggers to have 1,000+ followers before they’ll approve.
(In case you’re wondering, I do indeed have a spreadsheet and pivot tables for NetGalley stats too.)
How many readers use FirstToRead regularly? Hard to say. By the end of each lottery round, all reservable books are reserved (ie, of each title, 50 books have been reserves from the 100 available). Because each book is usually from a different genre, it’s possible that each 50 represents a unique reader. The chatter I’ve heard around the blogosphere is that reviewers who enter the lottery usually get one out of every couple books they request. It also depends if the site actually penalizes folks for not reviewing, (making the lottery less than random). In other words, I have absolutely no idea.
Anyway, hope this is useful to anyone else who’s tried the site and wondered about the points system.
PS. Have you used First To Read? What did you think?