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Big e-reader is watching you

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“Because sometimes things happen to people and they’re not equipped to deal with them.” That non-grammatical sentence — from Catching Fire, the second book in Suzanne Collins’ “Hunger Games” trilogy, is the most-highlighted passage ever on Kindle (s AMZN), with nearly 18,000 readers marking it. But you can bet Amazon is collecting much more interesting data about Kindle users than that.

The company isn’t willing to share such data with the Wall Street Journal (s NWS), but Barnes & Noble (s BKS) and Kobo talk a bit about the types of data collection they’re doing in this piece. For instance, they can track where a reader stops reading an ebook. The article notes a few non-surprising results from Barnes & Noble: readers of genre fiction (romance, mystery, science fiction) read fast and finish books; “nonfiction books, particularly long ones, tend to get dropped earlier.”

Jim Hilt, the company’s VP ebooks, says Barnes & Noble is in “the earliest stages of deep analytics” and has “more data than we can use,” but in some cases it’s making decisions based on the data:

Mr. Hilt says that when the data showed that Nook readers routinely quit long works of nonfiction, the company began looking for ways to engage readers in nonfiction and long-form journalism. They decided to launch “Nook Snaps,” short works on topics ranging from weight loss and religion to the Occupy Wall Street movement.

For now, Nook Snaps, Barnes & Noble’s e-singles section, remains B&N’s unimpressive competitor to Kindle Singles. Apparently, though, it’s an area Barnes & Noble wants to focus on.

Amazon, which is likely doing the most interesting and large-scale data collection and analysis of e-book readers, “declined to comment on how it analyzes and uses the Kindle data it gathers.” And from this piece, we learn that interactive fiction startup Coliloquy — the first app to be chosen for Amazon’s Kindle data developer program — can’t disclose sales figures because of an nondisclosure agreement with Amazon. That suggests that as Amazon starts adding more interactive reading apps to Kindle, it will keep the most interesting data it gleans close to the vest — while doling out “stats” like the non-surprise that people really like the first sentence of Pride and Prejudice, but even more than that, they like the Hunger Games.

7 Responses to “Big e-reader is watching you”

  1. Speaks the Truth

    No amount of analytics, the discussion and massaging of which, will substitute for good writing. It is kind of like in Field of Dreams, if you build it they will come. If you write it well and in an interesting manner, they will read. I consider this analysis of my reading patterns to be a gross invasion of my privacy. No doubt the ability to analyze same comes from DRM. Perhaps, we should stop trying to build a better book by the numbers and get back to superior writing which is what this should be about. Secondly, as readers, let’s set a goal to put a stop to this kind of invasive practice. Amazon and the other retailers are entitled to our cash when we purchase their products, and no more than that!

  2. Matthew Williams

    These two quotations sum up my concerns…

    “If we can help authors create even better books than they create today, it’s a win for everybody.” – Jim Hilt, vice-president of eBooks, Barnes and Noble.

    ‘Publishing has lagged far behind the rest of the entertainment industry when it comes to measuring consumers’ tastes’ – Alexandra Alter, WSJ

    Move over art, culture and authorship, corporate-directed Wordotainment is the future, and you, dear consumer, will love it.

  3. Thad McIlroy

    I with @David Thomas on this. I thought the WSJ article was hooey.

    There’s a pattern: because stories about self-publishing, ebooks, Amazon, Apple, or, ideally some combination of all four, get excellent readership, the WSJ, NYT etc. need to have at least one eyebrow-raising digital book story each week.

    The other topic that’s getting traction these days is “big data”.

    This article married the two in order to come up with startling insights such as: people don’t always finish the books they’re reading.

    This had never occurred to us before.

  4. David Thomas

    Leah: you hit the main issue squarely in the conclusion. No one can take these inferences from frequency stats too seriously because the sample size is so skewed, non-random and proportionally secret thanks to Amazon’s e-book dominance and lack of candor. The possibilities of studying reading habits is tantalizing, but at the same time the entire subject pool is limited to those readers who have devices and,presumably, use them regularly. It doesn’t account for people who may have abandoned the e-book for a bound copy, may have juggled between formats or take into account those reading multiple volumes at the same time and juggling between them. Most of what is revealed about readers in the reporting is a “non-surprise” and it is also self-serving to the analysts.

  5. Tom McElvy

    I recall as a youth, spending many a day reading some readlly heavy books in the guse of the old Reader’s Digest Condensed Books. I wonder if that isn’t a concept whose tome may be back. Consider this: Sell the condensed version of a book for, say $1.50 or $2. If a person really likes the book, they can invest in the full blown version. Not only would this seperate the good books from the bad ones, it would probably increase overall sales, PLUS increase revenue for the authors. Or, in the alternative, offer the condensed price as a credit towards the full version.