The Secrets of eBook Readers

shh - finger to lips - secret rumor

Ever wonder how other people read? It’s finally possible to know, using new data collected from ebooks. Last week Barnes and Noble leaked the patterns they were seeing among Nook readers to The Wall Street Journal, towards the end of a fascinating article called “Is Your eBook Reading You?” Citing the Nook data, the Journal reported…

  • “Nonfiction books tend to be read in fits and starts…”

  • “Novels are generally read straight through…”

  • “Nonfiction books, particularly long ones, tend to get dropped earlier.”

  • “Science-fiction, romance and crime-fiction fans often read more books more quickly than readers of literary fiction do, and finish most of the books they start.”

  • “Readers of literary fiction quit books more often and tend skip around between books. “

Some of the things they’ve determined are actually pretty obvious. For example, the first thing most people do after reading The Hunger Games is to download the next book in the series. But others have determined patterns which are even much more specific. For example, “It takes the average reader just seven hours to read the final book in Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games trilogy on the Kobo e-reader – about 57 pages an hour,” the Journal reports. And “Nearly 18,000 Kindle readers have highlighted the same line from the second book in the series: ‘Because sometimes things happen to people and they’re not equipped to deal with them.'”

The data finally confirms something that I’ve always suspected. When people read the first book in a series, they usually go on to read the entire series, “almost as if they were reading a single novel. ” And the article got an even more specific example from the makers of the Kobe. “Most readers who started George R.R. Martin’s fantasy novel A Dance With Dragons finished the book, and spent an average of 20 hours reading it, a relatively fast read for a 1,040-page novel.”

But where is this all leading? At Barnes and Noble, there’s now a Vice President for eBooks who’s already begun sharing their data with book publishers, hoping they’ll eventually create books that are even more engaging. It’s still early, they tell the Journal, but Barnes and Noble has already begun to begun to act on the data. When they realized people weren’t finishing the longer nonfiction ebooks, they launched “Nook Snaps” to offer shorter dollops of information on hot topics like Occupy Wall Street or how to lose weight. And that might be only the beginning. “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?”

Amazon also offered a nice perspective on their ability to identify “popular highlights” and share them on their web page. “We think of it as the collective intelligence of all the people reading on Kindle.” And the Journal also notes that Amazon is both a seller and a publisher of ebooks. I was baffled when Amazon started selling “Kindle Singles” last year, since they basically seemed to me just like shorter ebooks.

But maybe Amazon has learned the exact same lesson — that readers tend to drift away from their nonfiction ebooks!

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