Wednesday, 15 August 2012

E-book Sellers Record Your Reading Habits

Nathan Bransford mentioned this on his blog and linked to a Wall Street Journal article that detailed it more.  I'm pretty sure I read it one other place that I can't recall at the moment  Apparently e-book retailers are storing - and using the data - compiled by reader's habits.

Leaving aside the disturbing idea that someone can see what you're reading, underlining and where/when you're stopping for the night, is the implied usage of this data: that authors can (may be encouraged to) use the data to improve perceived boring areas (if enough people stop at a certain passage) and change aspects of their books to cater more to their readers.  The Wall Street Journal article mentions a new e-publisher that encourages reader feedback so as to get immediate changes/adjustments in the sequels.

I find this disturbing because it assumes the populace knows best despite their not knowing the ending.  Writing is a challenging activity.  But I wonder how much pain and suffering characters will go through if readers start calling the shots.  What about killing major characters?  Would an author be able to afford to do away with someone - as planned - if too much of their audience likes that character?  Even if letting that person live makes the story weaker?

I know whatever companies are tracking my ebook reads are getting a lot of useless information.  Because of the slow turn speeds on my original Kobo I only use that for commuting (when I dont' want to risk losing/having my iPad stolen).  So I cut off at strange points, because I've reached my destination or need to change trains.  If someone interprets my data to assume I'm bored, well, then I'd be getting bored at really bizarre passages.  I've also only completed one or two books on the device, while I've started dozens.  There's so much context involved that's missed by this type of recording.

With my iPad data, things would be more complete, but still somewhat disjointed as I switch between devices for stories (for example starting on the Kobo and finishing on the iPad).

And getting back to the whole idea of tracking, as mentioned in the WSJ article, there are books people don't want others to know they're reading, that they might not read if they knew their reading habits were being tracked - books on sexuality, health issues, etc.  As with the internet, we assume our devices are private - even when they aren't.  I know some people who feel embarrassed reading romances due to the racy covers, who like the ebook idea.  Finally they can read what they want, when they want, without people knowing.  Not so, apparently.

So, how do you feel about the idea that your ebook reading habits are being recorded?  Will this make you think twice about reading something?  Would you want authors to write according to feedback?  As an author, would you like the chance to glimpse your reading public's habits?

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