Sunday, July 29, 2012

Three facts you may not have known about e-books, and two questions they raise

First, the facts.

1. E-book distributors are tracking reading patterns in e-books. Do readers read through the book in one sitting? Do they start it and put it aside? When they do that, do they pick it back up again? The e-book sellers know these answers and more.

2. They are sharing this information with publishers. To give some examples:
- Readers of genre fiction (sci-fi, romance, etc.) read through their books more quickly than readers of literary fiction
- Long non-fiction books are more frequently dropped than short ones.
- People who get the first book in a series frequently continue on to get all of them.

3. Publishers are using this information to shape books. Everything from plotlines to character descriptions are now being influenced by data about what has been popular in the past. While this is nothing new, e-readers give publishers access to information like: how long has a particular page been open in the reader and how many people have highlighted or shared its content. For novels in a series this allows authors who want to do this to tailor their content around what's popular with the readers.

Now, the questions:

1. If they're willing to share the information with publishers, shouldn't they have to share it with self-publishing authors? But they don't seem to be, at least not yet. For an industry that's having antitrust problems right now (I'll discuss the FTC litigation against Apple and the publishers in a future post), this is a bit surprising.

2. If they're collecting this information, shouldn't they have had to get permission from customers? But the Terms of Use for these devices don't suggest anything about this. And under the terms of their privacy policies, it really seems like they should.

Wall Street Journal article "Your E-Book is Reading You"


  1. Hi.

    This is technically not possible, yet.

    But they will do, of course.

  2. Tracking reading patterns okay, but tailoring content to meet my taste? WTF? I swear I'll quit reading.


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