Should Authors and Publishers Spy on Readers?

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

authors publishers ebook readers user dataOkay—that title is slightly provocative.

But it’s not an unreasonable question to ask.

Traditionally, authors and publishers knew nothing about how readers actually read books. Book publishing was, and often still is, a one-way flow of information, from content creators to consumers.

Ebooks are changing all that. Reading apps and e-reading device software can record virtually every user interaction—when a book is opened, when a page is turned, at what time of day a book is read, when it is abandoned and much more.

But none of that data is currently in the hands of authors or publishers. Amazon doesn’t share any of it—zippo, nada, zilch. Others, though, like Kobo and Bluefire, have begun to make some that data available—for a fee.

To protect consumer privacy, user data is aggregated and anonymized. An author or publisher cannot see what an individual did, what the correlation might be between, say, writing a review on Goodreads and tweeting about the book. A lot of valuable marketing information remains out of view.

But what if authors or publishers could put a piece of software inside an ebook so they could see how their customers actually read it, giving them direct, unfettered data? In some ways it would be akin to a Google Analytics for ebooks. The EPUB3 standard happens to makes that possible.EPUB3 reader data ebooks DBW15 HTML5 EPUB

The critical component is the support for Javascript (JS) in EPUB3, and the London-based start-up Jellybooks (of which—full disclosure—I am the founder and CEO), with support from the British government and Bill McCoy of the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF), has developed a working prototype of exactly such an application.

It’s attached to an EPUB file and records how a book is read. To address both reader and publisher concerns, the software is distributed only with a special kind of free ebooks—those that are distributed as part of focus groups. The reader gets a free ebook, and in return the publisher gets data, allowing them to know who each individual user is and what other actions they may have taken, like reviewing the book, blogging about it, discussing it on Facebook, etc.

The key here is that reading data is often of most value before a book is published, because it is then that the data can be used to better position, market and promote the book. In many ways, it’s a variation of the Advance Reader Copy (ARC) model, except that the purpose is not to generate reviews but to collect reading data from a sample of representative “everyday” readers.

The service is part of a new trend toward data-driven publishing, and Jellybooks will be offering a sneak preview of the new application at a Digital Book World 2015 workshop called “Data, Analytics and Algorithms in Publishing” on Tuesday, January 13.

Click here to learn more and sign up. Hope to see you there!

Related: Andrew Rhomberg on Confronting the Latest Discoverability Challenges

Image courtesy of Andrew Rhomberg/Jellybooks.

3 thoughts on “Should Authors and Publishers Spy on Readers?

  1. MIKE KENNEDY

    IN THE OLD DAYS, BEFORE THE LETTERS I AND E PREPENDED NOUNS TO INDICATE THE LATEST MUTATION, COLLEGE PROFS WOULD HAVE LOVED TO LEARN WHAT THEY ALWAYS SUSPECTED: THAT YOU NEVER READ THE BOOK, OR READ IT JUST BEFORE FINALS. NOW, WITH VIRTUAL WORLD COURSEWORK, THERE IS EVEN LESS FOR PROFS TO GO ON IN THE HUNT FOR MALINGERERS. WATCH FOR THE NEXT GENERATION OF STUDENTS TO FUSS WHEN THEY LEARN THAT BIG BROTHER HAS ARRIVED. AND THEN THE GROANS ALSO WHEN THE NEXT GENERATION OF OFFICE PAPER PUSHERS FIND THEIR GUISES PENETRATED BY INFORMING ONES AND ZEROES.

    Reply

COMMENT

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


*