An article in today's Australian newspaper has prompted me to re-think exactly how much my e-reader knows about me and how little I know about the technology that is used to monitor the book apps I've downloaded on my iPad and iPhone.
Today's article, "Your e-book is reading you" (which I think is a reprint of an article in the WSJ - the link to which is here.) highlights the amazing amount of data these kind of devices can provide not just about what you are reading but how. Gone are the days when no one knew when you skipped the boring bits, abandoned a literary classic or got totally bogged down and bored. Instead (apparently) your e-reader knows:
- How fast you read the book and when you slowed down, skipped bits, or stopped reading it altogether
- Which passages you highlighted or bookmarked
- How many times you opened a book and how long you read it for
- How quickly you purchased/downloaded a sequel after finishing a book
I have to say, I never really thought about my e-reader gathering such data, but now this information is proving invaluable to sellers as well as publishers. They can now use this knowledge to gain insight into your reading habits. They can tell when a reader's interest tends to drop off, when a series might be flagging and the kinds of books readers consume in one sitting versus those which tend to get read in fits and starts (most non-fiction, apparently gets read this way).
This information can also be very specific and some publishers are even conducting market tests in which readers can customize elements of the book - from the level and intensity of love scenes (!) to which of three potential suitors a female protagonist chooses. At one level this smacks of commercial dilution of the creative process (rather like writing a book by committee!) but obviously this kind of analysis is proving invaluable for publishers (and writers) on exactly what readers want. By looking at the pace with which books are read and the places where readers get bogged down or bored, publishers can also glean when a writer is losing a reader's interest.
For instance, for Suzanne Collins' hugely successful Hunger Games trilogy publishers found out:
- It takes the average reader 7 hours to read the final book on the Kobo e-reader (which equates to about 57 pages an hour)
- That 18,000 Kindle readers highlighted the same line in the second book - "because sometimes things happen to people and they're not equipped to deal with them"
- On Barnes & Noble's Nook e-reader, the first thing most people did upon finishing the first book in the trilogy was to download the next one.
Do you consider it an invasion of privacy? I for one would prefer no one knew which bits I skim over, especially if I'm reading some impressive high-brow literary tome:) As a writer, though, I can imagine this information could provide an amazing insight into what my readers liked and disliked about my books. At the same time this feels kind of scary and, dare I say it, a bit depressing too (knowing Big Brother is watching what everyone is reading in such detail). What do you think, should we be scared or exhilarated by the prospect?