Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.
According to a lengthy report in The Wall Street Journal, Amazon, Nook, Kobo and other e-readers observe reader habits through their devices and reading apps and are beginning to organize the data and learn from it.
Of course, in the book publishing industry, this has been well-known for some time. While the WSJ report dives deeply into the issue from a consumer-oriented perspective, it also illuminates for industry readers some of the details of the monitoring by Amazon and others.
— Barnes & Noble learned that while novels are generally read all the way through, non-fiction is read in parts and readers often quit non-fiction books before finishing.
— Kobo found that George R.R. Martin’s A Dance With Dragons (the fifth book in his popular Game of Thrones series, Random House) was a particularly engaging book: Most readers read it from start to finish at an average speed of about 50-pages an hour.
— Amazon has data on readers’ bookmarks, notes, annotations and highlighted passage. The company wouldn’t share specifics with WSJ. The Journal did, however, point out that Amazon is in a unique position to put this data to use as it’s both a retailer and a publisher.
Publishers have been hungry for more data on how readers consume their products. Barnes & Noble vice president of e-books Jim Hilt created a stir at Digital Book World in January when he spoke of the company’s intention to share more data with publishers. Hilt is cited as telling WSJ the same. However, in an interview with Digital Book World in March, Hilt revealed that the company has no imminent plans to share specific data with publishers.
Will the development and release of more e-reading data by retailers to publishers help publishers develop better and better-selling books? As WSJ points out, some in the publishing industry look askance at the concept, while others embrace it.
Farrar, Straus & Giroux publisher Jonathan Galassi defended the sanctity of books as creative works that “the reader shouldn’t have anything to do with.” Meanwhile, Sourcebooks, as has been reported in the trade press widely, is currently engaging in experiments in “agile publishing,” where readers are very much brought into the process of creating the book.
There are other experiments going on. Elle Lothlorien, a self-published author, wrote an alternate ending to her book Sleeping Beauty in response to reader demand. WSJ devotes much ink to Coliloquy, a new start-up that creates books that allow readers to customize characters and plot lines.
While certainly a fringe experiment in new modes of publishing for now, Coliloquy might have something to teach other publishers: Most readers finish the books and about two-thirds re-read them.
Related: Data Works Better Than Your Gut
Read much more in The Wall Street Journal.