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Author Topic: Should data from your e-reader be used to shape the future of publishing?  (Read 1283 times)

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February 25, 2013, 11:25:09 PM

merrythought

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I recently read the article below about how companies like Amazon and Barnes & Noble can potentially sell data from our e-readers to publishing houses - the point being that the data can give writers feedback on their books, possibly helping them shape their future books more closely to their readers' preferences.  Yet this could create a tension the author's vision and the reader's desires.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/alltechconsidered/2013/01/28/170296373/e-readers-track-how-we-read-but-is-the-data-useful-to-authors

Well, the article raises a lot of questions for me! 

*Should writers tailor their books to their audiences? 
*Is writing a book like producing a coffee-maker (consumer demand should drive how future products are designed)?
*How important is the writer's vision (what s/he says, and how s/he says it)? 
*How do you think authors and readers would be impacted if data from e-readers were used in such a manner? 
*How do you feel about the privacy of your own reading experience - are you comfortable with your personal reading data being "out there"?

...and please feel free to contribute your own questions!


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February 27, 2013, 10:22:48 PM
Reply #1

Dreamteam

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It doesn't bother me too much that publishing companies can see what I'm reading.  After all, it's no secret what I and others are reading, the sales figures will show that quite easily, I post on Shelfari's site to show what I'm reading and sometimes post a short review, as do others with Goodreads and other sites, so it's information that's fairly readily available. 

What would worry me is that publishing companies might steer authors towards producing  books that are similar to the ones we're reading rather than coming up with something new.  Yes, sometimes I want an author to take me to old familiar places but at other times I want them to take me to new and exciting places that I've not been to before.  It reminds me very much of the way some books are publicised with something like "If you love Harry Potter [or some other series] you'll love this".  Please, publishers, look forwards, not backwards, what we want to know is what is in the author's imagination, we already know what's in our e-readers. 

Readers shouldn't be steering authors towards what they want to read, if that happens then we may as well stop buying books and just write our own.  I may not have wanted everything in the Harry Potter series to happen the way it did (RIP Sirius) but it's not my story and I don't have to right to dictate what should happen in it (nor would I want it) and publishers shouldn't be dictating it on our behalf. 

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February 28, 2013, 08:48:12 AM
Reply #2

Maraudingdon

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This isn't something that will happen, for the simple reason that traditional publishing moves at a glacial pace.

1) A writer drafts a book. Even for the quick, with revisions and editing, this takes about a year.
2) Draft manuscript is then revised by the writer's literary agent - and let's not even start on how long it takes to get one of those. This takes a minimum of six months to a year before the agent thinks its ready for submission.
3) Book goes out on submission to publishing houses. This is a process that can take up to two years to garner a sale.
4) Publishing houses release books some two years after they were bought.

So the entire process can take up to five years. Authors rarely write for a market because the market has changed by the time it goes to submission, let alone by the time the book is released.

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March 01, 2013, 07:43:15 PM
Reply #3

paint it Black

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Wow.  I don't own an e-reader, but having read this I may be less likely to buy one in the future than I might have been!  This all seems a bit too Big Brother for me.  I had no idea that the company that designed, manufactured and sold you your e-reader was entitled to monitor every minute that you used it.  :-\

This goes beyond recording which books people purchase; I think any company would be foolish not to collect and utilize that data, if not simply to track sales then to understand what sort of material that people enjoy.  But to use real-time data from how one reads a book in order to tailor new books to readers seems to me to stifle creativity.  Suppose during Picasso's Blue Period, market research showed that red was trending and that people spent more time staring at red paintings?  Should he change his color scheme in order to sell more paintings?   :scared:  So to answer your question, I do not think that writers should tailor their books to their audiences, unless they have no artistic vision at all and simply want to make some cash by putting a pen to paper.  (To go back to the painter analogy, someone out there does make those paintings that hang in hotel rooms!  ::))  Perhaps some writers of, for example, cheap romance novels do this, but I hope that most fiction writers do not.

I would think that it would be up to each individual author whether or not they chose to alter their writing habits based upon this type of data.  The worst that could happen would be if publishers rejected an author's material for publication if it didn't conform to information gleaned from this specific type of data of their past work.  I'm guessing that there are already some muddy areas between a writer's artistic vision and what type of material is currently selling well.

So the entire process can take up to five years. Authors rarely write for a market because the market has changed by the time it goes to submission, let alone by the time the book is released.

Wow, so does that mean that when we consumers see a publishing trend (say for example, young adult dystopian fiction) when we shop for books, that this has been pre-determined by publishers years before?  :o

I wonder if the type of data collection mentioned in the article might not be more useful for magazine publishers (people read those on e-readers, correct?).  If most people skipped reading a certain column every month, then it might reflect that that material is not a good fit for that publication.

« Last Edit: March 01, 2013, 07:45:39 PM by paint it Black »

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March 02, 2013, 02:25:50 PM
Reply #4

Marielle

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They may not, ask writers to write books according to trend, but the publisher house might decide to publish books that meets the actual trend and leave the others books sitting on a shelf. And that would be bad, not only because this could leave excellent book sitting there waiting for a new trend, and so be damageable to the writers, but also the the readers. Not every readers have the same taste in books, and that is why there are so many genre, if we start limiting genre to push some trend, this can only leads to several unhappy readers too!

I agree with paint it Black, about magazines. They do usually contains article about current trends, and that is true for all magazines. It would be just an additional tool for them.
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March 05, 2013, 12:05:21 AM
Reply #5

merrythought

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Thanks, everyone, for responding!  (so far!)

I kind of get the shivers at the thought that I'm leaving footprints in my e-reader for Barnes & Noble to follow.  Like paint it Black, I don't like the idea of being monitored in this way; even though I talk a lot about what I read, the actual act of reading is private, one of my most private experiences, when I think and process, rather than talk. 

At the same time, I don't want to be unnecessarily paranoid about the future of writing/publishing/reading, and Maraudingdon's experiences with publishing suggest I would be wasting energy to worry too much at this point.

What I feel most strongly is that I want to keep reading books which are written by people with their own unique statements about life, who express themselves in their own styles.  I don't expect to 100% love everything I read, but I want read what the author wishes me to read, and I want to be able to decide how I feel about it.  So, if George Orwell were writing today, and a publisher told him to cut Goldstein's book out of 1984 because it's a major snooze, I'd object - although I DO think that section a major snooze!  What one person calls trash, another finds sublime; that's the beauty of any art form.  While it may not be likely, I would not want my e-reader data to be used as support for limiting a writer's expression, or for limiting the choice of books made available to me.
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June 30, 2013, 05:35:12 PM
Reply #6

Evreka

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I think some of the most important questions raised in that article  are whether it is OK to share how
 we choose to read a book and whether such market data ought to influence writers on what they produce.

*Should writers tailor their books to their audiences? 
Absolutely not. Well of course it might be a good idea to keep in mind what they expect their average reader to be like in terms of age groups or if there are some other very specific sub group of people they are supposed to target, in order to write a book that appeals at all. It's not much use to produce a wonder of a book that costs a fortune if you plan to sell it almost exclusively to people living on next to no money for instance. Or write a historical fictional novel with a terminology that only archeologists specialized in some specific era would understand, for example. But this is obvious limitations that isn't based on how any particular book is read.

Like others have said, I'd fear the result if authors started to analyse their writing technique based on such data. I think we'd risk getting a streamlined story-telling, where every new story by an author would become a carbon copy of their previous books, structure wise. We'd get more books like Dan Brown's or Victoria Holt's, fabulously tales when you first read them; but having read a couple of them you can be almost certain what will happen and roughly how they'll end having read just a chapter or two, because they all follow the exact same pattern. For example, in Holt's case:
Spoiler
Heroine meets a great, caring, lovely man whom she doesn't like and another irritating one whom she'll end up marrying.
They wrote a winner once, and never strayed from the form it was in.

And what if Jo Rowling would have listened to what fans wanted? I do not believe the HP books would have been as great as they are.


*How do you feel about the privacy of your own reading experience - are you comfortable with your personal reading data being "out there"?
I don't think it is anyone's business how I choose to read a book.
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March 22, 2014, 08:28:52 AM
Reply #7

Evreka

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I came by this thread again in a search result (for something else) and realised that I have more things to add. To refresh people's memory of what this is about, here's some of the questions from the first post:

Well, the article raises a lot of questions for me! 

*Should writers tailor their books to their audiences?  ...
*How do you think authors and readers would be impacted if data from e-readers were used in such a manner? 
*How do you feel about the privacy of your own reading experience - are you comfortable with your personal reading data being "out there"?
My original reply, was taking the view of fiction books, crime stories, short stories, fantasy, biographies and so on - but I just realised that there might be one exception to this: Factual books.

The very first digital book that I ever downloaded was a beginner's guide to an advanced Computer Development kind of topic, realising it would take 14 days to get it shipped from the US, and 5 seconds to download. I needed it there and then, so it was an easy decision. Lately, I've realised that a growing amount of factual books are available for downloads, and here, maybe such data could be of interest for the authors in such a way that it would eventually benefit the readers. In my E-reader I had a choice whether I wanted to see what others had highlighted (so I assume the author could see that info too, if in no other way, so by opening his "copy" of the book).

Theoretically, that could give feedback to authors on which part of the texts and explanations that were of most interest to their readers, and with the kind of data the link from merrythought mentions, it could, theoretically tell a factual author where his readers looses interest as well as the most interesting parts of it; which might lead to better descriptions and hone the covered topics to where (most) readers are in most need of help.

Of course this would only work if there was a clear pattern to find, and the author would do well to remember that many might choose to not share their highlights with others, so they might just see a small percentage of all that read the book anyway.


For fictional books, however, seeing each others highlights, could totally ruin a book! Imagine opening a crime story and finding underlined texts that point towards the murderer or opening a HP book for the first time and seeing all THIPS (*) underlined scattered through the early ones!  :o :myrtle:



---
* THIPS : Litterally Things Hidden In Plain Sight, usual phrase among HP fans, referencing the many ways in which the books are interlinked with each other. Usually small seemingly uninteresting details, which gains huge importance later, but are usually missed until re-reading after finding the place in a later book where it re-occurs.
« Last Edit: March 22, 2014, 08:34:17 AM by Evreka »
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April 25, 2014, 09:35:19 AM
Reply #8

Maraudingdon

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They may not, ask writers to write books according to trend, but the publisher house might decide to publish books that meets the actual trend and leave the others books sitting on a shelf. And that would be bad, not only because this could leave excellent book sitting there waiting for a new trend, and so be damageable to the writers, but also the the readers. Not every readers have the same taste in books, and that is why there are so many genre, if we start limiting genre to push some trend, this can only leads to several unhappy readers too!


Trends are always reader led. The glut of vampire books came about because of the phenomenal success of TWILIGHT. The next big trend was dystopian as a direct result of THE HUNGER GAMES.

Publishers then went through a trial and error period where no one really knew what the next trend was going to be. We had novels about mermaids and fairy tale retellings were quite popular.

But now the big trend is young adult contemporary. This was confirmed at the recent Bologna Book Fair. This is down to John Green more than anyone.

But readers decide the market more than people realise. The genre of New Adult, where the main protagonist is late teens/early 20s, was openly mocked by many publishing professionals. So indie writers took up the baton, ran with it and became phenomenally successful. I'm thinking here of authors like Colleen Hoover and Tamara Webber as examples.

The reader is king.
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May 30, 2015, 11:54:22 PM
Reply #9

HealerOne

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I just saw this thread! I agree with Donna that the reader is king. This is especially true in the case of indie publications and self publishing or e-book only publishing. People are snapping up what they enjoy reading and the big publishers don't always get it right. E-Readers have really changed the market both for the readers and for authors. The relatively low price of e-books is attractive to the readers. The publishers, if they are to keep up with the trends, must pay attention to the e-book market.
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