Are your eBooks reading you?

by on December 25, 2013 at 3:47 pm in Books, Education, Science | Permalink

“What writer would pass up the opportunity to peer into the reader’s mind?” she asked.

Scribd is just beginning to analyze the data from its subscribers. Some general insights: The longer a mystery novel is, the more likely readers are to jump to the end to see who done it. People are more likely to finish biographies than business titles, but a chapter of a yoga book is all they need. They speed through romances faster than religious titles, and erotica fastest of all.

At Oyster, a top book is “What Women Want,” promoted as a work that “brings you inside a woman’s head so you can learn how to blow her mind.” Everyone who starts it finishes it. On the other hand, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.’s “The Cycles of American History” blows no minds: fewer than 1 percent of the readers who start it get to the end.

Oyster data shows that readers are 25 percent more likely to finish books that are broken up into shorter chapters. That is an inevitable consequence of people reading in short sessions during the day on an iPhone.

…He contrasted two romance novels. One had few Amazon reviews and little promotion, but Scribd’s data showed 6 out of 10 readers were finishing it — above average for the genre. Another romance had hundreds of reviews on Amazon, but only about 4 out of 10 readers bothered to finish it. They began closing the book, the data showed, when the writer plunged deeper into fantasy. Maybe this was not a good idea.

Some writers, of course, might not be receptive to hearing this.

“If you aren’t careful, you could narrow your creativity. You won’t take risks,” said Ms. Loftis, the young adult novelist. “But the bigger risk is not giving the reader what she wants. I’ll take all the data I can get.”

There is more here.

ummm December 25, 2013 at 5:25 pm

selling shallow books to women = goldmine

Claudia December 25, 2013 at 5:55 pm

funny I read it as: women finish what they start.

I guess confirmation bias is strong even on Christmas, cheers.

Vernunft December 25, 2013 at 6:19 pm

Yes, they are pretty vulnerable to the sunk cost fallacy.

TMC December 25, 2013 at 8:58 pm

It would be interesting to see this broken out by the cost of the book.

Nikki December 25, 2013 at 7:00 pm

And I read it as no information about the commercial success of any books (is anybody charging for books on a pay-as-you-go basis?) and no information about the predominant sex of the readers (if anything, I’d presume few women need a book to get inside a woman’s head).

Claudia December 25, 2013 at 7:31 pm

Nikki, I am not so sure on your second point … knowing how people get in your head (in any way) can be rather helpful ex ante information, I think. To be fair, my first reaction was closer yours or maybe that it was some Roissy self help book but the Amazon review says “This book should be read by every woman on earth.” I am almost certain that I won’t read it all the way through but it should be nice to collect some new insights or at least rationalization material. Mainly I was just pushing back (in jest) on ummm’s confirmation bias with my first comment. I think the whole gist of the article/post underscores how tricky ‘big data’ is … we learn a lot (that we probably already assumed) and don’t necessarily know what to do with it.

Shane M December 26, 2013 at 1:43 am

as if men are all that deep either:

selling sports to guys = goldmine

msgkings December 26, 2013 at 1:10 pm

Not the aspies here…no gold in that mine

Peter December 25, 2013 at 6:00 pm

Video games have been doing this kind of information gathering for a while now, which I’d guess has a lot to do with how big that industry has become. I’m always surprised at how many people don’t finish books, games, or even movies, but will go on to praise them later.

Vernunft December 25, 2013 at 6:19 pm

“I’m always surprised at how many people don’t finish books, games, or even movies, but will go on to praise them later.”

Indeed. Some of their names rhyme with “Byler Bowen”.

Z December 26, 2013 at 9:13 am

This was my take away. I’m one who thinks it is close to immoral to not finish a book once in start it. I’ve bought books I think I may like and then changed my mind once i skimmed it, but once I start I slog through to the end. A worn out copy of War & Peace sits on my shelf as a reminder to me that I should choose wisely. If the data presented here is true, I’m very much a minority.

zbicyclist December 26, 2013 at 10:21 am

I’m the opposite. A waste of time book is even more of a waste of time if I finish it. There’s so much good stuff I haven’t read, why waste time on stuff that isn’t interesting?

Tom January 1, 2014 at 10:14 pm

In a spirit of proto-lifehacking a decade ago, I measured my consumption over a few years, and found that I had at best read somewhat more than 100 books for pleasure per year. Over my lifetime, let’s say I’ll read 5000 books in toto. Tick tock.

Edward Burke December 25, 2013 at 6:15 pm

Q: what writer would pass up the opportunity to peer into the reader’s mind?

A: Some writers, of course, might not be receptive to hearing this.

FC December 25, 2013 at 6:56 pm

E.g., Emily Dickinson

Mark Thorson December 25, 2013 at 8:51 pm

If Emily Dickinson were alive today, she’d be huddled in her small room, reading her Facebook account every five minutes.

dead serious December 26, 2013 at 8:46 am

I LOLd.

Edward Burke December 26, 2013 at 9:38 am

–or would the grammatical past tense of “LOL” be “LdOL”? (“LdOLd” might confuse tense with simple contraction.)

Bill December 25, 2013 at 7:25 pm

Comment sections for blogs serve the same purpose as e-readers reading you. Traffic counts from some subjects are different than others, attracting other readers.

Just say “Krugman” and watch the response and comments.

Krugman

Z December 26, 2013 at 9:21 am

Not really. No more than 1-in-10 readers will leave a comment. Across social media, including message boards and call-in shows on radio and TV, 1% of the audience makes up 90% of the comments. Talk radio figured this out decades ago. They crowd-source their entertainments. Jim Rome, for example, has grown very rich selecting members of the audience to regularly perform on his show. They are selected because they are weird and unusual, not because they are typical. of course, there’s self-selection at work. People who comment on blogs or call into radio shows are a little weird. Their comments get noted, which encourages them to do it again.

Randall Parker December 25, 2013 at 8:15 pm

I wish long-winded commenters could somehow find out just how little of what they say gets read.

mike December 25, 2013 at 8:50 pm

lol, yes, btw love your blog longtime reader

ChrisA December 25, 2013 at 8:58 pm

Given the revelations about how the NSA are basically able to track any online activity, what could they do with data on your personal reading habits? Maybe there is a particular signature of reading books that terrorists (or tax evaders) have? What about the potential for blackmail or scandal for a person that is causing trouble for some future administration due to “inappropriate books” being read? I can easily imagine, if this hypersensitive era continues, someone being castigated for reading child pornography (Lolita) or racist literature (Huckleberry Finn). Check out the recent “scandal” involving Steve Martin for “racist comments” for how witch-hunting the current online media can be.

Mark Thorson December 25, 2013 at 9:14 pm

And the stuff you buy on eBay, the stuff you buy with your Safeway affinity card, the searches you do on Google. It all goes in your permanent record.

The NSA is the enemy.

chuck martel December 25, 2013 at 10:34 pm

It’s even worse than that. The official use of the mountain of information kept on each individual is one thing, the unauthorized access to it by creeps or vindictive sleazeballs is an order of magnitude worse: http://nailheadtom.blogspot.com/2012/10/cops-use-driver-license-info-to-stalk.html
http://nailheadtom.blogspot.com/2012/12/anne-marie-rasmussen-update.html

Patricia Mathews December 25, 2013 at 11:15 pm

The reader and its ebooks are for light reading. Cycles of American History is for acquiring in hardback and reading thoughtfully.

zbicyclist December 26, 2013 at 10:25 am

I hear this a lot. But isn’t a book like this exactly the type of book that makes the ability to search particularly valuable?

byomtov December 25, 2013 at 11:15 pm

I can remember when this would have been a joke:

“In America, you read books. In Russia, books read you.”

Alas, no more.

TR W December 26, 2013 at 12:39 am

The public has been lowered gently into the boiling cauldron of anti-privacy and they haven’t even noticed it. People don’t get things like ebooks so someone on the other side of the computer can track what they are doing. Even with the knowledge they are being tracked most if not nearly all will continue to do what they do because they want that thing like an ebook. There is a fundamental dishonesty in how companies operate on the internet. These companies slipstream data gathering behind people’s focus on getting things.

Steve Sailer December 26, 2013 at 12:47 am

“On the other hand, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.’s “The Cycles of American History” blows no minds: fewer than 1 percent of the readers who start it get to the end.”

Let me see if I can guess how Schlesinger’s plot turns out: In 1973, just like in 1923 and 1873, a GOP President gets in a big scandal!

Right?

dead serious December 26, 2013 at 8:55 am

Reading the Wikipedia page on Harding, the guy would be branded a commie to the left of Obama by today’s right-wing media.

- signed the first federal child welfare program
- supported an 8-hour work day
- advocated an anti-lynching bill to curb violence against African Americans
- moderately supported women’s suffrage
- protected alcohol interests (analagous to marijuana in today’s landscape)

Bo December 26, 2013 at 6:19 am

This seems to be straight out of *Average Is Over*. The authors who resist taking advantage of the new data source because they think they know better will produce less value than ones who embrace the change and provide readers with what they want.

Edward Burke December 26, 2013 at 10:36 am

“(T)he bigger risk is not giving the reader what she wants,” says the young adult novelist.

Many if not most readers depend on the author (in league with the publisher) to tell them what they want. Many if not most readers of young adult novels must be sorely disappointed on a recurring basis. Being predictable all the time might entail a large risk all its own.

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