Wednesday, July 18, 2012

IN SOVIET RUSSIA, KINDLE READS YOU!  Actually, here too, as the WSJ's Alexandra Alter explained to NPR's On The Media last weekend just what publishers may do with the data that Amazon is compiling:
For them to be able to see most readers are skipping the introduction of this book, most readers are heavily underlining the third chapter of this book, that’s a pretty good indication of what is of interest to large groups of readers. They can use that to tailor books to people’s taste more.

Of course, not every book will be put through a focus group. I mean, you’re not gonna have Jonathan Franzen’s next novel cut in half because 30% of people didn’t finish Freedom, 25% of people didn’t finish The Corrections.

But I have talked to publishers who said, you know, they would like to have this kind of information. They wish Amazon would share it. Barnes & Noble intends to share some of it with publishers. So they’re looking forward to having a better sense of what readers like.
More, in her precursor piece for the WSJ:

Barnes & Noble has determined, through analyzing Nook data, that nonfiction books tend to be read in fits and starts, while novels are generally read straight through, and that 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 authors welcome the prospect [of analyzing data]. Novelist Scott Turow says he's long been frustrated by the industry's failure to study its customer base. "I once had an argument with one of my publishers when I said, 'I've been publishing with you for a long time and you still don't know who buys my books,' and he said, 'Well, nobody in publishing knows that,' " says Mr. Turow, president of the Authors Guild. "If you can find out that a book is too long and you've got to be more rigorous in cutting, personally I'd love to get the information."


  1. Joseph J. Finn7:21 PM

    Yep, I'll stick my books and skip the electronic document fad, thankyouverymuch.

  2. isaac_spaceman8:05 PM

    I imagine there would be a healthy amount of resistance from authors, who legitimately will say that if writing is to remain an art, the act of authorship (and, by extension, of editing) shouldn't be dictated by focus groups or market data.  And there will be a legitimate response from the for-profit publishing companies, who can whisper, not for attribution, "our job is to sell books, not be patrons of the arts."  Even if authors resist taking stock of this kind of data, publishers can just choose to buy the kinds of books that the data say will sell, rather than the kinds of books that won't.  Neither side is wrong. 

    And that will be kind of sad, because we'll get more Tuesdays with Morries and fewer 2666es, but it probably won't be earth-shatteringly sad, because (a) most (not all) of the truly great books seem to do just fine commercially; and (b) the kinds of books that are written more as commerce than art will get better at it because the editors will know better what works. 

    Anyway, there is nothing wrong with knowing what the data show, even if an author chooses to ignore it. 

  3. Eric J.1:03 AM

    I can definitely see a couple of positive developments coming out of this. One is the re-empowerment of editors. It seems like in most cases editors have gone from being true collaborators with authors to proofreaders and administrative assistants. Even if some editors are just suggesting the changes that the computer spits out, that still creates more space and value for editors help guide and shape books than there seems to be currently.

    The other related change is that we might get shorter, tighter books. Ever since most authors started using word processors, books have bloated tremendously, and if the metrics show that people are skipping large swaths of prose and not finishing 800 page books, we may see a trend towards 300, 400 page novels. (Though, conversely, ebooks of course make it so much easier to tote around those 1000-page Neal Stephenson tomes.)

  4. Sure, sure.  Publishing, that incredibly efficient money machine, will definitely use ambiguous  information about how people use their product after money has been exchanged to make their product much more attractive to the marketplace.