By Jeremy Greenfield, Editorial Director, Digital Book World, @JDGsaid
Big brother booksellers are watching readers, according to a recent report in the Wall Street Journal, and they may soon be joined by publishers.
A new start-up backed by the vaunted Y-Combinator start-up incubator aims to give publishers the ability to track who is reading e-books and when and how they read them.
The Mountain View, Calif.-based Hiptype calls itself the “Google Analytics for ebooks,” referring to the popular Web analytics program, and aims to answer for publishers such questions as what percentage of readers purchased a book after reading a free sample, how many completed the book, and how many stopped in the middle and where they stopped.
Hiptype works through a plug-in that publishers install into each e-book format. Because of the differences in technology between Kindle, Nook and iBooks e-books, Hiptype has customized the plug-in for each. The plug-in shares different levels of information from each bookseller based on how much they supportsHTML-5; iBooks e-books will offer publishers the most information. The plug-in does not work for .mobi files — so, no e-ink reading insights.
The company is in close contact with each bookseller and Amazon and the others are on board with the project, said one of the co-founders, James Levy, though that could change as the terms of service for each bookseller changes. Hiptype has taken measures, Levy said, to ensure that if Amazon terms of service change the worst doesn’t happen: books being pulled from shelves.
“We know there’s a risk,” said Levy. “What we generally heard from the retailers is that if we stick within the terms of service we’re fine. We’ve taken some precautions. We can disable any part of the service if there’s a terms of service change, which would ensure that books won’t get pulled from the bookstore.”
Despite the risk, publishers of e-books are already eager to sign up with Hiptype, according to the company. There are currently e-books being sold with the technology, although Hiptype wouldn’t divulge which titles or which publishers.
Different Features on Different Platforms
Because Amazon and the other booksellers all use different technology, Hiptype is implemented differently across each platform. Levy would not provide details regarding the differences.
“This is something we’re continuing to work on and invest a lot of time in. we’re looking at how we can have feature parity across platforms,” said Levy.
Apple’s iBooks offers the most flexibility, according to Levy. The reading platform was the first that Hiptype worked with and is thought to support more features of HTML-5 reading than any other book platform currently.
In addition to stats on sales and downloads, which the booksellers already provide, Hiptype will offer publishers information on audience demographics, reader activity and audience reading trends.
One issue raised among the public after the Wall Street Journal article on booksellers monitoring readers was that user privacy had or could be violated. Hiptype says that it “anonymizes” users and groups data so that no single user can be monitored or identified.
“We’re very aware and cognizant of potential privacy concerns and that’s why any data is anonymized and shown in aggregate,” said Levy. “We have a privacy notice in all the books featuring hiptype and readers can choose to opt out at any time.”
For basic information on demographic profiles of readers and book performance, publishers or self-published authors can pay $19 a month per book. That price gives publishers data from up to 1,000 readers, basic audience insights and reading trends and the ability to track book performance over time.
Publishers can also choose to pay $99 a month per book for much more comprehensive service, including data from 500,000 readers, a more detailed panel of reader insights and a suite of tools meant to help publishers more effectively market and sell the title.
For instance, Hiptype can take demographic data from each book and use it to build Facebook ad campaigns. Based on the efficiency of the campaign, Hiptype will further hone and customize the audience at which the book is targeted.
“Based on who clicks through we get better and better at targeting readers,” said Levy. “Cost-per-click efficiency is two-to-five times better than when you don’t use the feature.”
For cash-strapped publishers, spending up to $1,200 a year on measuring the performance of a book might seem onerous, but Levy said that the goal is to help publishers who sign up for this service turn that $99 a month investment into $1,000 or even $10,000 a month through improved marketing and sales.
The Future of Book Analytics
Hiptype is among several firms trying to give book publishers a leg up when it comes to measuring their audience and their marketing and sales efforts; Booklr and Iobyte Solutions are two prominent players. Hiptype, founded in May of this year, is just getting started but wants to be in the mix.
So far, the company has the backing of Y-Combinator, which comes with $17,000 in funding, but Levy said the company intends to come to New York where most of its potential publishing partners are based.
Right now, the service is in beta and is accessible through invite only.
“This is a very busy time for us,” said Levy. “We’re working on more integrations with books with the customers we already have. We’ll let people sign up and then we’re going to start letting people in in waves, probably once a week.”
For the two-person company, scaling the service if hundreds of publishers sign up won’t be a problem, said Levy, citing his Google experience (he and co-founder Sohail Prasad both had internships at Google): “We know a thing or two about scaling.”
Write to Jeremy Greenfield