For a writer, this is an interesting story to follow and see what develops. It could change the way writers write or totally flop. 

A company has started data mining the information that is collected from e-book use. The company, called Jellybooks, gives readers free e-books. The readers then click on the link in the book so that all kinds of reading data gets sent to the company.

Some of the questions that the New York Times suggests can be answered by studying the data include “Do most people devour it in a single sitting, or do half of readers give up after Chapter 2? Are women over 50 more likely to finish the book than young men? Which passages do they highlight, and which do they skip?”

There seems to be so many ways it could be sliced and diced that it could lead to having so much information that you become paralyzed in your writing. You want to write to please all your potential readers, but you realize that something is always going to turn off one group or another.

In the past, I’ve had books rejected by publishers who make decisions by committee. One person wants this change made. Another person wants another change made. You make the changes to try and please them, but then there’s someone who nixes the whole thing, although everyone else was fine with it.

That’s what I envision happening with books if author’s rely too much on data like this.

Books written by committee will lack a single vision and a sense of cohesion. Instead of a race horse, you wind up with a camel.

Another problem that I see with this is that it studies reading habits of e-book readers. This may be anecdotal, but my encounters with readers tell me that many physical book readers have a different reading style than e-book readers. One example I can think of is that an e-book reader may read on their smartphones using an e-reader app while waiting in line. Physical book readers may read for longer times because they aren’t disturbed by the backlighting on many e-readers.

So far, the technology is still new. The company has studied 200 books for seven publishers. Each book gathers data from 200 to 600 readers.

Here is some of what was found:

  • Less than half of the books tested are finished by a majority of readers.
  • Most readers give up early on. Women seem to give a book 50 to 100 pages before deciding whether to give up or not. Men will only read 30 to 50 pages before making the decision.
  • Only 5 percent of the tested books were completed by 75 percent of the readers.
  • 60 percent of books were finished by 25 to 50 percent of readers.
  • Business books have a low completion rate.

In the end, I think what will still turn out to be the best course of action is to write the best book that you can. Make it a story that you believe in and love. Then go find the readers with whom it resonates.

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