Your E-Book Is Reading You

With the increased proliferation of e-books, publishers are using data analytics to determine what and how people are reading on their e-book devices. The Wall Street Journal provides some detail:

Barnes & Noble, which accounts for 25% to 30% of the e-book market through its Nook e-reader, has recently started studying customers’ digital reading behavior. Data collected from Nooks reveals, for example, how far readers get in particular books, how quickly they read and how readers of particular genres engage with books. Jim Hilt, the company’s vice president of e-books, says the company is starting to share their insights with publishers to help them create books that better hold people’s attention.

Some details on which books tend to get dropped by readers:

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.

Those insights are already shaping the types of books that Barnes & Noble sells on its Nook. 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.

Not very surprising, I suppose. I’d be interested in finding out what the criteria for a drop are: is it starting to read another book? No change in page numbers in a week? Longer?

Another thing to consider: giving readers what they want based on analytics can backfire. Imagine someone who’s read a longer book than they otherwise would have and their sense of accomplishment after finishing versus a publisher that tells authors to limit how and what they put on the page. As one astute publisher noted: “We’re not going to shorten War and Peace because someone didn’t finish it.”

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