Friday, June 29, 2012

E-Readers Reading Readers

There is a terrific article in the WSJ called Your E-Reader is Reading You by Alexandra Alter (here). It starts out with a compelling passage that states what will be discussed in the article. The fact that e-readers are now capturing data on whether or not "the reader quit after three pages, or finish it in a single sitting? Do most readers skip over the introduction, or read it closely, underlining passages and scrawling notes in the margins?"

 As a BA in the industrial cleaning and remediation industry I love dissecting data and trying to see trends using that information to make changes. I knew that e-readers and distributors were collecting data, I had no idea they were collecting so much. For example I didn't know this:

 Barnes & Noble has determined, through analyzing Nook data, that nonfiction books tend to be read in fits and starts, while novels are generally read straight through, and that nonfiction books, particularly long ones, tend to get dropped earlier. Science-fiction, romance and crime-fiction fans often read more books more quickly than readers of literary fiction do, and finish most of the books they start. Readers of literary fiction quit books more often and tend skip around between books.

 I am also a huge fan of the public highlighting feature on my Kindle. I love knowing what other's have highlighted and adding my notes and highlights to the public's database, so this passage wasn't too surprising.

 Amazon can identify which passages of digital books are popular with readers, and shares some of this data publicly on its website through features such as its "most highlighted passages" list. Readers digitally "highlight" selections using a button on the Kindle; they can also opt to see the lines commonly highlighted by other readers as they read a book. Amazon aggregates these selections to see what gets underlined the most. Topping the list is the line from the "Hunger Games" trilogy. It is followed by the opening sentence of "Pride and Prejudice."

But what was surprising was this blast from the past. Who doesn't remember the "Choose Your Own Adventure" series of books. Now they can not only have readers choose the adventure but model and change the adventure based on the input they receive from the reader.


Coliloquy's digital books, which are available on Kindle, Nook and Android e-readers, have a "choose-your-own-adventure"-style format, allowing readers to customize characters and plot lines. The company's engineers aggregate and pool the data gleaned from readers' selections and send it to the authors, who can adjust story lines in their next books to reflect popular choices.

Finally, back to "color me not surprised" was this snippet.


Kobo, which makes digital reading devices and operates an e-reading service that stocks 2.5 million books and has more than eight million users, has recently started looking at how readers as a whole engage with particular books and genres. The company tracks how many hours readers spend on particular titles and how far they get. Kobo recently found, for example, that most readers who started George R.R. Martin's fantasy novel "A Dance With Dragons" finished the book, and spent an average of 20 hours reading it, a relatively fast read for a 1,040-page novel.

I think this data is suspect. What kind of true George R.R. Martin fan takes such a long time to finish his books. I was easily done in less than 20 hours.