Tuesday, July 10, 2012

E-Books Are Getting into Your Head

Companies selling electronic readers and e-books are tracking the reading and spending habits of users with an eye to helping authors and publishers better understand what readers want, according to an article in The Wall Street Journal. Books for the Kindle and Nook, as well as tablets such as the iPad, can record the number of times a reader opens a book app and how much time they spend using the app, and then provide that information to retailers and publishers.

“The bigger trend we’re trying to unearth is where are those drop-offs in certain kinds of books, and what can we do with publishers to prevent that,” said Jim Hilt, vice president of e-books at Barnes & Noble, in the WSJ article. “If we can help authors create even better books than they create today, it’s a win for everybody.”

The article details how e-book social networking site Copia, which has 50,000 subscribers, collects information including age, gender, and school affiliation, as well as how many times a book was downloaded, opened, and read, and shares that data with publishers that request it. Kobo, with a stock of 2.5 million books and more than eight million users of its devices and services, tracks the hours users spend reading a title, while Scholastic uses online feedback from message boards and interactive games to shape its 39 Cluesseries.

Sourcebooks is also incorporating reader feedback into print versions of some of its online serial titles.

“You very rarely get a glimpse into the reader’s mind,” said David Levithan, publisher and editorial director at Scholastic. “With a printed book, there’s no such thing as an analytic. You can’t tell which pages are dog-eared.”

But there are those who disagree with such data gathering. Privacy groups would like to see e-book users protected from having their reading habits recorded. California passed a “reader privacy act” making it more difficult for law-enforcement groups to access consumers’ digital reading records, legislation that the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EEF), Google, and other organizations are also promoting.

“There’s a societal ideal that what you read is nobody else’s business,” said Cindy Cohn, legal director for the EEF. “Right now, there’s no way for you to tell Amazon, ‘I want to buy your books, but I don’t want you to track what I’m reading.’”

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