As an author, I would love to know how people read my book. Which parts do they like? Which parts do they skim over? Which parts are rough to understand? Which parts are so good they linger over them, and maybe reread it. Which parts do they find so engaging they will tell their friend about it. If only there was some way to capture this date. What am I talking about? Of course this data can be captured. Because data!
The Times has a report on how several companies are offering readers access to free digital books, and in exchange, they are tracking reading behaviors, with the goal of telling authors how people receive their works. The goal is to actually write better books, backed by data.
Before the Internet, books were written — and published — blindly, hopefully. Sometimes they sold, usually they did not, but no one had a clue what readers did when they opened them up. Did they skip or skim? Slow down or speed up when the end was in sight? Linger over the sex scenes?
A wave of start-ups is using technology to answer these questions — and help writers give readers more of what they want. The companies get reading data from subscribers who, for a flat monthly fee, buy access to an array of titles, which they can read on a variety of devices. The idea is to do for books what Netflix did for movies and Spotify for music.
“We’re going to be pretty open about sharing this data so people can use it to publish better books,” said Trip Adler, Scribd’s chief executive.
Quinn Loftis, a writer of young adult paranormal romances who lives in western Arkansas, interacts extensively with her fans on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Goodreads, YouTube, Flickr and her own website. These efforts at community, most of which did not exist a decade ago, have already given the 33-year-old a six-figure annual income. But having actual data about how her books are being read would take her market research to the ultimate level.
“What writer would pass up the opportunity to peer into the reader’s mind?” she asked.
What can we learn?
The longer a mystery novel is, the more likely readers are to jump to the end to see who done it. People are more likely to finish biographies than business titles, but a chapter of a yoga book is all they need. They speed through romances faster than religious titles, and erotica fastest of all.
At Oyster, a top book is “What Women Want,” promoted as a work that “brings you inside a woman’s head so you can learn how to blow her mind.” Everyone who starts it finishes it. On the other hand, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.’s “The Cycles of American History” blows no minds: fewer than 1 percent of the readers who start it get to the end.
Oyster data shows that readers are 25 percent more likely to finish books that are broken up into shorter chapters. That is an inevitable consequence of people reading in short sessions during the day on an iPhone.