Is Your eBook Reading YOU?

Book with eyes

So it turns out that Amazon knows more than just what ebook you’re reading, and exactly what page you’re on. They can also guess what ebook you’re going to read next – and maybe even how you’d like it to end! I recently wrote about how The Wall Street Journal reported that ebooks “are providing a glimpse into the story behind the sales figures, revealing not only how many people buy particular books, but how intensely they read them.” But their article also examined the implications of startling new technological capabilities: that the way we read has become something that can actually be measured…

In fact, we’ve already taken the next step. “Retailers and some publishers are beginning to sift through the data, gaining unprecedented insight into how people engage with books,” the Journal reports. In the past, publishers only had two ways to measure their readers’ reactions: sales figures and reviews. But now they’re embracing all the giant new pools of data that are coming in from ebook-reading devices like the Kindle.

Honestly, the article seems a little short on specifics, but at least one publisher even began releasing it digital titles first, so they could solicit feedback from readers before releasing the print edition. And Scholastic books monitors their online message boards for feedback, which they’ve used to shape their popular book series, “39 Clues.” A company called Colloquy took it one step further, offering an ebook in the “choose-your-own adventure” format – and then tracking the choices that readers make, so they could improve future entries in the series! The author of the Kindle Game “Getting Dumped” was planning to eliminate the boyfriend of its main character – until she learned that 29.7% of its readers chose the game path where she’s still pursuing him

“Your ebook is reading you”, warned the article’s headline, though it stresses that the data is analyzed as a giant pool of “aggregate” data rather than studying any individuals. It does make you think about what kind of future may be waiting forus. Author Scott Turow was excited about the possibility that he could someday learn who was actually reading his books, and whether they’d like the books to be longer or shorter. But at least one publisher argued that the reader shouldn’t be the ones who determine the length of a book. “We’re not going to shorten War and Peace because someone didn’t finish it.”

And one privacy advocate at the Electronic Frontier Foundation had an even blunter perspective. When the Journal asked them for a comment, they argued that in our society there’s an ideal, that “what you read is nobody else’s business. 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.” And security expert Bruce Schneier also agreed, pointing out that readers could even avoid ebooks about sensitive topics, because they don’t want their purchases tracked.

“There are a gazillion things that we read that we want to read in private,” he tells the newspaper…

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