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Okay—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.
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.
Image courtesy of Andrew Rhomberg/Jellybooks.