Big Brother is watching what you read

Big Brother is watching what you read

Big Brother is watching what you read

Although some staunch defenders of print books remain, many of us have accepted the ereader as an appreciated item in our technology collection. Personally, I still read a lot on paper, but I find the ereader useful for reading on the go. I have several hundred books in the archive, and a few in the homescreen at any one time (my own included!). The books may be data files, but I think of them as tangible items – real books that exist on a bookshelf of sorts. A personal bookshelf. My own. Private.

But in fact, it’s not private at all.

Did you know that your ereader feeds back data to retailers on your reading habits? Alison Flood explained in the Guardian:

The onset of digital reading means that Kobo – and other ebook retailers – are able to tell more than ever before about how readers engage with books: which they leave unopened, which they read to the end, and how quickly they finish.

Of course, data collection about consumers has become the norm, not the exception. Whatever information you share is fair game for companies looking to make more money out of you. Take Facebook, for example, which keeps an eye on all the information you share and watches the clicks you make to create personalised advertising. In the case of ebook retailers, the data gathering feeds into recommendations for new books you may want to purchase, but it also gives retailers a big picture of reading habits. Until recently, that has been privileged information, closely guarded by the retailers. But now Kobo has released its first analysis of trends in e-reading.

The data covers the period January to November 2014 and spans more than 21 million readers across the world. It breaks new ground by moving beyond the ‘what’ of reading to the ‘how’ and ‘when’. President of Kobo, Michael Tamblyn, explained:

A book’s position on the bestseller list may indicate it’s bought, but that isn’t the same as it being read or finished. A lot of readers have multiple novels on the go at any given time, which means they may not always read one book from start to finish before jumping into the next great story. People may wait days, months, or even until the following year to finish certain titles. And many exercise that inalienable reader’s right to set down a book if it doesn’t hold their interest.

The analysis, if formalised and broadened out to include other retailers, could change the way we perceive the success of books. Until now, success is measured by volume: how many books were sold. Some wildly successful books are so-termed because many, many people bought them. But did all those people enjoy the book? Did they finish it, even? Or was the book merely a fad?Ereadinganalysis can answer those questions, and allow us to rank books according to which best held readers’ attention.

In the UK, for example, the most completed book of 2014 on the Kobo ereader was not a literary-prizewinning novel. It was the self-published thriller Rotten to the Core by Casey Kelleher, which doesn’t even appear in the bestsellers’ list for the retailer. Here are the two lists for comparison:

The UK bestseller list
1.One Cold Night – Katia Lief
2. Gone Again – Doug Johnstone
3. Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn
4. The Fault in Our Stars – John Green
5. My Sister’s Keeper – Bill Benners
6. The Husband’s Secret – Liane Moriarty
7. The Cuckoo’s Calling – Robert Galbraith
8. Her Last Letter – Nancy C. Johnson
9. Twelve Years a Slave – Solomon Northup
10. Bloody Valentine – James Patterson

The most completed books of 2014
1. Rotten to the Core – Casey Kelleher
2. The Tycoon’s Vacation – Melody Anne
3. The Traitor – Kimberley Chambers
4. Concealed in Death – JD Robb
5. Wrongful Death – Lynda La Plante
6. All Revved Up – Sylvia Day
7. Present Danger – Stella Rimington
8. The Empty Cradle – Rosie Goodwin
9. The Witness – Nora Roberts
10. The Promise (Fallen Star Series, Book 4) – Jessica Sorensen

The Guardian article takes a look at critically acclaimed books that have a fairly poor retention rate. The longer the book, it seems, the more likely a reader is to tire of it and give up. Is the book content solely to blame, though? The medium itself does not promote reader engagement in the same way as a print book. And it is so easy to delete a book, or archive it – readers can more easily be fickle when giving up on a book is not a matter of seeing it on the physical shelf, abandoned and unloved.

Interestingly, in the UK the genre that saw the highest completion rate was romance (62%) [followed by crime and thrillers (61%) and fantasy (60%)]. I wonder why that is. Are there more quality reads in the romance genre? Or is it perhaps to do with the profile of the romance reader? Are we more likely to stick with a story, building up to that happy-ever-after?

What do you think of the ereading analysis? Are you happy that your reading habits are not private, but fed into a system looking to make more money from consumers? Do you give up on books more easily on an ereader? Do you think the ‘Most Finished Books’ list idea has merit? I would love to hear your thoughts.

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