Your E-Reader is a Spy

Spy cameraI hope you saw this important article in the Wall Street Journal last week: Your E-Book is Reading You. It detailed the ways that e-readers are tracking reader’s habits and as a result, bringing actual market research to publishing—something that has been severely lacking in our industry.

The data is still in the beginning phases of being gathered and analyzed, and it will be some time before it becomes clear exactly how (or if) publishers will use the information. Obviously they’re going to want to create a better experience for readers and consequently, sell more books.

Some quotes from the article:

  • 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.
  • Nook users who buy the first book in a popular series like “Fifty Shades of Grey” or “Divergent,” a young-adult series by Veronica Roth, tend to tear through all the books in the series, almost as if they were reading a single novel.

I think the new data will provide powerful and previously unavailable direction for publishers and authors as they seek to provide the best experience possible for readers.

Wouldn’t it be great to know if people were reading your book in a day, a week, or in fits and starts over weeks or months? Would it help you to know if there was a certain point in your book when readers tend to get bored and drop it? And isn’t it fun to know what lines from your book people are highlighting?

Of course, the whole idea is controversial:

  • Literary purists reject the notion of an author being influenced by this kind of data—the vision of the artist is at stake here. 
  • Some readers and privacy advocates are worried about how this invades our right to keep our reading habits private. 

What do you think? As both a reader and a writer, how do you respond to the new data becoming available from e-readers?

1. As an author, would you be open to changing what you write based on research indicating readers’ preferences?

2. As a reader, do you object to your reading habits being tracked?

Let’s talk about it. Leave your response in the comments!


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Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Books & Such Literary Agency. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. […] Your Ereader is a Spy Agent Rachel Gardner presents an interesting blog post on the Wall Street Journal article about ereaders being able to track and quantify ereaders’ reading and purchasing habits. […]

  2. […] Rachelle Gardner got into two key posts with more than 100 comments landing on each. The first is Your eReader Is a Spy, and the second is Does social media leave us over-exposed? Wouldn’t it be great to know if […]

  3. Jessica Peter on July 11, 2012 at 11:30 AM

    It makes me want to throw out my e-reader. I don’t mind my purchases being tracked – when the big bookstores recommend books, it doesn’t make me uncomfortable.

    But the actual experience of reading is a solitary one. In fact, it’s one of the few truly solo pursuits that I can think of. If I want my reading more social, I’ll prowl Amazon, GoodReads, review blogs, or write my own reviews. But during the actual process of reading, I am alone. I don’t want unseen “company” tracking my habits.

    As a writer, I feel much the same. If I want to see what people are buying, or how people are feeling about the books, I can find that information elsewhere. It’s not worth the loss of solitude.

  4. Crafty Mama on July 10, 2012 at 6:42 PM

    None of that data is a surprise. They really didn’t know that already? I guess I’m just really shocked that this is considered “new”.

    This way of tracking information is becoming disturbingly common. Google does it all the time, which is where personalized ads come from. Facebook is trying to do it, too, albeit a bit differently. It seems to be a growing trend of invading privacy to sell stuff. Of course, we live in an age where people are plugging themselves in without thinking and are willingly posting private information in a public domain. What do we expect to happen?

  5. Rachael on July 10, 2012 at 5:23 PM

    As a writer, it wouldn’t really influence my decision. Things can change quickly and it could just be indicative of a tiny percentage of an author’s readership.

    If an author is looking at statistics from Nook owners who bought their books, for instance, they’re missing out on the habits of readers with Kindles, computers, Kobos, iPads, print books, and any other format.

    As for participating, I wouldn’t mind as long as it was possible to completely opt out.

  6. Victoria Noe on July 9, 2012 at 11:18 PM

    As a writer, I would not change my writing one bit. Where did the reader purchase it? Where do they live? Those are facts that could be compelling as far as my marketing plan. But they would not affect my writing at all. I don’t care if they skipped around, or read it in one sitting. Maybe they were interrupted; maybe they weren’t. There are too many outside variables to make that kind of data relevant.
    As a reader, I’m creeped out. How could it possibly be anyone’s business how fast I read their book? They have my money; isn’t that enough?

  7. London Crockett on July 9, 2012 at 11:13 PM

    As a writer, I’m intrigued by the information, although I don’t see it changing what I write significantly.

    However, as a reader, I find this disturbing. What I read and how I read it is my business. The only way that information should find it’s way into somebody else’s possession is if I explicitly authorize it.

  8. Michael Seese on July 9, 2012 at 11:09 PM

    I blogged about this the other day. The privacy professional in me rates it about a 10 on the “creep-o-meter.”

    The author in me is intrigued…

  9. Anna Labno on July 9, 2012 at 10:32 PM

    Readers who do like literary fiction don’t usually read off the e-readers. I bought kindle one year ago and read only one book. So I do believe that readers of literary fiction love to read actually paper books. I downloaded many books on my kindle, but I didn’t take it to my advantage. I prefer holding a book in my hands. I’m not old. I’m in low 30’s.

  10. katdish on July 9, 2012 at 7:25 PM

    Yeah, it bothers me. But short of paying cash for everything and living in a cave, there’s really no such thing as privacy anymore. If I knew a writer changed what he wrote based on marketing trends rather than what he felt compelled to write, I don’t think I’d be a fan of his work anymore. The whole concept seems whorish to me.

  11. Peter DeHaan on July 9, 2012 at 6:56 PM

    I don’t think I’d change what I write based on research of readers’ preferences any more than I would chase a market trend. However, I would tap into this research to better inform how I write.

  12. Becky Doughty on July 9, 2012 at 3:50 PM

    Rachelle – I KNEW IT!

    Actually, as a READER, it kinda weirds me out… a little creepy to know that everything I read on my reader is traceable.

    As a WRITER, I LOVE it. I think it’s fantastic! Would I change the way I write to fit the statistics? To a degree, of course. Change is necessary for growth in any area of life. BUT… that being said, would I change my message from Truth to Compromise – win readers instead of souls? Nope. Not even a moment’s consideration.


  13. Jill on July 9, 2012 at 3:14 PM

    This is not cool, at all. This is a case of TMI for authors and a violation of privacy for readers. I don’t like being spied on–nope, sorry, even though this site is spying on me right now, as well as all internet sites! It makes me angry, but it’s all a part of the same package of the Brave New World.

  14. Brian Henwood on July 9, 2012 at 3:07 PM

    Great post. Thank you for including some of their quotes.

    To answer your questions:
    1. I already change what I write to appeal to my audience. The difference here is I get a much bigger sample audience than the dozen or so people I can manipulate into reading my work :).
    Seriously though, when someone (agent, friend, whoever) tells me parts of my story could get better if I did X,Y, & Z, I listen. If it is a good suggestion, I make the change. How can advise from the people buying your book be bad?

    2. I’m on the fence about privacy issues like this. I don’t really see the harm in this specific case, but I would have liked to know (full disclosure) what they were tracking, why, etc. I do see the other side of the argument though – how this is just one more tiny step toward the destruction of our freedoms. Maybe I don’t agree with the severity of that position, but being exposed to minor infractions (of privacy) like this tend to get you acclimatized to the process in general.

  15. Bonnie Way on July 9, 2012 at 2:30 PM

    I’d already say that publishers are influenced by numbers and data (usually sales numbers and dollar data) in what they publish. Some of these stats worry me… for example, publishers are going to lean harder to publishing sci-fi and the other “more popular” genres, and literary fiction (which already is hard to publish) is still going to be hard to publish and to market. For those of us who like literary fiction (even if it takes us longer to read it), that’s not good news. And for all the writers I know who are trying to publish literary fiction… well, that’s not good news either. I definitely follow those trends for most nonfiction books (reading in fits and starts and not always finishing nonfiction), but I do in a way object to having such information about me being collected without my knowledge (or permission?).

  16. Jonathan on July 9, 2012 at 2:23 PM

    I think it’s hilarious that it matches my reading (and writing) styles so much.

    It doesn’t seem that important to me as a writer, because I chose the genre I did not because it was a sure-fire, page-turning, best-seller but because that was the right vehicle for the theme and story I have. I don’t have an issue with anyone tracking it, but isn’t the important part how many are sold? If the ebook has been purchased, does it matter if it was read? Sure it ultimately does to the author, but the only reason it would be important to the publisher is if it didn’t sell.

    Now, if the publishers decided to only publish books that were read instead of purchased, then it matters.

  17. […] Rachelle Gardner’s (@RachelleGardner) take is largely positive, despite its title: Your E-Reader is a Spy. […]

  18. Lillian Archer on July 9, 2012 at 1:24 PM

    As am author, I would want the feedback to see if there are craft items I can improve to positively affect my reader’s experiences. As an individual, e-readers following my reading habits are too “1984” for me, but I may be in the minority on that one.

  19. Christine Dorman / @looneyfilberts on July 9, 2012 at 1:11 PM

    As a reader, I highly object to this invasion of privacy, so as a writer, I wouldn’t want to receive information obtained in this way.

    • Jennifer Major on July 9, 2012 at 2:25 PM

      Speaking of writing….you write great stuff. On your blog. Which is ever so slightly lonely. Coughhintcough.

      • Christine Dorman / @looneyfilberts on July 9, 2012 at 2:36 PM

        Thank you for the hint (cough, cough), Jennifer. I just published a new post (Don’t faint!). Thank you for keeping after me. You are a good friend. 🙂

        • Jennifer Major on July 9, 2012 at 3:57 PM

          WOO!! I was beginning to wonder if disco would come back before you got to a new post.
          You’re a good friend too!

  20. Hillari Delgado on July 9, 2012 at 1:08 PM

    Excellent, stimulating discussion, thank you all.

    Perhaps I’m missing something, but–getting a report that x readers did y at z chapter: wouldn’t that mean rewriting and reissuing? So, unless publishers seriously contemplate the cost and marketing nightmare of ‘Kiss Me Digitally’ 12.0 etc., how useful is this metadata, really?

    For the marketing side, sure: use the most read or highlighted portions for ads, back of book, trailers… But for us wordsmiths, how is this better, really, than a good writers group and a trusty circle of beta readers?

    The privacy issues as low on my alarm scale: I’m more concerned about Safeway ratting to my health insurer about my purchases of butter and wine…

  21. Ann Bracken on July 9, 2012 at 12:39 PM

    It actually doesn’t bother me at all. I was sure something like this was happening when I read my ‘Amazon would like to suggest the following books’ lists. I know that everything we do over the internet is recorded. I use this to show my children that I do know what they’re up to so they’d better be careful. The heck with Big Brother, they have mom and dad watching!

    While it may be marketing for them, I would also like to see the data. Not that I would change what I write, just because I’m a geek and love that kind of thing.

  22. Etienne on July 9, 2012 at 12:34 PM

    1. As an author, would you be open to changing what you write based on research indicating readers’ preferences?

    a: As someone famously said, ‘not only no, but hell, no’.

    As an author, I tend to write the sort of things I, myself, would like to read. If I tried to make my own personal style fit someone else’s perception of what a book should be, the writing would suffer.

    2. As a reader, do you object to your reading habits being tracked?

    a: Ab-so-fuck-ing-lutely.

    Enough said.

  23. Timothy Fish on July 9, 2012 at 12:28 PM

    Something to keep in mind with non-fiction is that readers are often looking for one piece of information, while the book may contain much more than that. That causes the “fits and starts” indicated by the data. Once the reader finds what they are looking for, they put the book down until they need to find something else. We shouldn’t assume that there is something wrong with the book because they aren’t reading it cover to cover. In my most recent non-fiction book, Extending Art of Illusion, the first half of the book goes into detail about how to write plugins for Art of Illusion, while the second half is purely reference material. I expect that some people will read the first few chapters, but pick and choose from the rest of the book. As for the material at the back, there may be pages that will never be read. But it is important that the material be complete, rather than me taking a guess as to which material readers will actually use.

  24. Diane Yuhas on July 9, 2012 at 12:13 PM

    Give the people what they want! So much time, energy, and money poured into monitoring consumer behavior, and all in order to spoon-feed the masses a sweet syrup of dependency. Very tasty at first, but later, when everything about our lives has been cleverly manipulated, bitterness turns the stomach.

  25. Meghan Carver on July 9, 2012 at 11:48 AM

    As an author, I would definitely change how I write. According to the information, it would only make it better. For example, if I write nonfiction, I would need to shorten my work by editing fiercely and tightening it up. It would be better. If I write literary fiction, I need to make sure that my story is compelling enough that the reader doesn’t quit. Again, better. Finally, if I write a series, I need to make sure the subsequent books get done in a timely fashion to keep up with the desires of the reader. That would be better for my bank account, as well as the bank accounts of my agent and publishing house.

  26. Sylvia A. Nash on July 9, 2012 at 11:43 AM

    When I got ready to post a response, my name, email address, and website all appeared without me having to type a letter. Yes, it’s all out there and we can’t do much about a lot of it (i.e., Kroger and WalMart, etc.). However, this gathering of info without anyone even knowing it seems a little too personal for me. I haven’t bought an e-reader yet (finances), and now I’m not sure I ever will–not unless they provide an option to prevent info gathering. I have to agree with everything Julia Denton (librarian) said. Without asking my permission, this is invasive. Who cares if I buy Charmin? Who cares if I read material about overthrowing the government? Think about it.

  27. Katie Ganshert on July 9, 2012 at 11:28 AM

    1. Depends on what it is

    2. Not at all

    I think this is super cool! As an author, I’m super curious to get my hands on this data.

  28. n on July 9, 2012 at 11:07 AM

    I don’t care how valuable the information is. MYOB. If you want my opinion of a book, ask me. Don’t spy on my reading habits.

    Just another great reason to stick to real books.

    • Jim Gilliam on July 9, 2012 at 5:38 PM

      Well said! Real books forever!

  29. Jim Gilliam on July 9, 2012 at 11:04 AM

    Market analysis is not new. We’re now in the super information age. Corporations like Neilsen BookScan have been around for awhile and Nook and Kindle are trying to get their piece of the pie. Publishing is a business with a capital B for bean counting. It has been explained to me on several occasions how brick and mortar bookstores like Barnes&Noble track their sales for purposes of reordering books. I’m still not sure I get it. All I managed to retain is that those statistics don’t seem to favor the author for purposes of sales. I’ve heard more than one author say, “Please don’t buy my book from my website. Buy it in a store or online to give me better marketing stats.” Makes sense I guess. After all, best seller lists don’t drop out of the sky or come from our website sales. Gathering reader preference stats from Kindle, Nook, etc may be better. I’ll wait and see.

    As an author I’m for any marketing tool that will get my books out there. As a reader, I resent the invasion of privacy. It is so Orwellian. Nineteen eighty-four and five have come and gone and we are still in Oceania. That’s the reason I do not respond to surveys of any kind. However, I have no control over Nook or Kindle, unless I go back to the old fashioned way of only reading hard copies. Actually holding the book in my hands, nodding off to sleep in the chair before the fireplace.

  30. Joan Cimyotte on July 9, 2012 at 10:45 AM

    I guess I’m unclear how they would track my reading habits. I don’t want anyone to know by spying on me. I’ll be glad to tell you I’m a slow reader. I’ll drop a book the instant it no longer appeals to me. I’ll write what I want to write. You won’t see me writing a vampire book.

  31. Laurie on July 9, 2012 at 10:30 AM

    I don’t have an e-reader, but I borrow my mother’s or my aunt’s for work on occasion. I’m a journalist who writes a weekly literary story and sometimes an author event comes up on short notice and I don’t have time to get the book from the publicist.

    I have to admit the tracking bothers me even though I know others like Amazon are already doing it with the books I buy or look up on their website. The data they collect isn’t really indicative of my reading habits because alot of what I look up there is for work. It makes for some funny and off target recommendations.

    As a writer, of course I would be willing to change what I write based on reader preference. As a journalist, I work closely with editors and I’m already used to the collaborative process. It isn’t any different for fiction in my mind.

  32. Marie on July 9, 2012 at 10:27 AM

    I found this information fascinating. As long as ‘personal’ information is not shared I don’t mind the data collection.

    It is being used to profile readers, and that could be useful for potential products/books/items/software being developed for us readers.

    It is also intriguing that you reference Nook users; what about Kindle users?
    I am sure the data will be the same in the majority, but is data being collected via Amazon, or is it just money they worry about? Interesting.

  33. Adam Porter (@AtlasProWriter) on July 9, 2012 at 10:27 AM

    And targeted ads will begin popping up in Kindles and Nooks in t-minus…

    • Elissa on July 9, 2012 at 2:54 PM

      Sooner than we think, no doubt.

  34. Robert Powers on July 9, 2012 at 10:27 AM

    For me, I’m reluctantly having to accept anything electronic in nature has some kind of data collection aspect. I have two kindles and LOVE them. However, that said, I’m sure Amazon is collecting what I read also. Otherwise, I would not be getting “recommended” reading lists all the time.

    However, here are some of my concerns with the implications of the data being collected. From a marketing sense that is:

    1. Looking a the data – Publishers will want to chase after the golden egg. If the data is showing a certain genre being read faster than another by readers, they may inundate the market with that genre and suppressing the others.

    2. As writers, we all have certain types of stories we are more suited to write. For example, I love to write fantasy leaning books. I know I would not be able to attempt a tactical suspense thriller without a serious re-wiring of how I think and write.

    3. Will writers be funneled down the path of certain types of books just because that is where the trend is? Diversity is just as important. I would say by over exposing a genre we risk it becoming diluted in quality and substance.

    That said, as for the data trends influencing what I write about, I would like to say no. Particularly since I am of the mindset that stories choose me rather than the other way around.

    But, as an unpublished author…

  35. Joe Pote on July 9, 2012 at 10:26 AM

    At this stage, I’m mostly amused by the market data. I don’t find any of this information to be particularly insightful.

    Quite frankly, the market analysts could have interviewed just one person, myself, to reach pretty much the same conclusions.

    As an author, yes, it would be pretty cool to know what people are highlighting…or even just to know that they are highlighting something I’ve written.

  36. Heather on July 9, 2012 at 10:25 AM

    I hope that as an author I can use this to make my writing better, but not sacrifice what’s important in the book. However, I would love to know if a certain line or paragraph was highlighted by people, especially if something I wrote inspired them. As a reader, I sort of assumed they were tracking me with my new Kobo, especially when I saw that the syncing part automatically updated my bookmarks back to the website.

    Honestly though, I think some of the romance and sci-fi stats could have been proven before the e-books phenomenon. After all, people subscribe to Harlequin here, getting boxes of books at a time to go through. I’m sure they keep statistics in house. Libraries can track what you’ve borrowed. And some readers, like sci-fi or mystery, buy books from the same websites.

  37. Colin Smith on July 9, 2012 at 10:17 AM

    As a writer I would be interested to know the effect different parts of my work had on the reader: where they got bored, whether they read it in one sitting, etc. I don’t know that I would change the way I write based on this data, unless, say, 80% of readers stopped reading at chapter 12. In which case I would want to take a look at chapters 1-11 and see if I can detect a problem. If I agree with the readers, then I would certainly take note of this for future projects.

    As a reader, as long as I’m just a randomly-assigned number in the database, and the data collection system doesn’t store things like customer numbers, names, addresses, etc., then I don’t see a privacy issue.

  38. Stephanie M. on July 9, 2012 at 10:13 AM

    I think it’s interesting from the aspect it shows who has the most free time to spend e-reading. So, if you’re willing to sell your soul you can definitely cash in.

    It won’t ever change my writing. My readers (hi, mom and dad) are not the people buying FSOG.

  39. Julia Denton on July 9, 2012 at 10:12 AM

    As a librarian, I’m wary of any potential violations of reader privacy. What may first appear to be a benign, anonymous aggregation of data can open the door to other kinds of government-sanctioned snooping, and that’s pretty creepy.

    Moreover, it feels crass to over-analyze reading patterns and assume every dropped book or quick read is a reflection on the author. Readers differ in ability levels, interests and the amount of outside interference going on that may influence reading data in ways that have little to do with the author’s skills. Data may appear to be objective, but the analysis of it is often made without complete contextual information, and is more subjective than we sometimes realize.

    Such analysis of readers’ behavioral patterns can result in a commercially-induced form of censorship that is worrisome to the future of free expression. I’d hate to think what might have happened to some of our great works of literature if someone had been obsessively recording subjective perceptions of reader reactions to particular passages, based entirely on such things as when they picked a book up or put it down.

    • Elissa on July 9, 2012 at 2:51 PM

      I believe it may have been Mark Twain who said, “There are lies, damned lies, and then there are statistics.” You’re absolutely right that while the information from the e-readers might be factual, the interpretation of said facts could be spun any way the spinner wants.

  40. Cherry Odelberg on July 9, 2012 at 10:03 AM

    I don’t think there is much that could change WHAT I write; but every type of data changes how I write. There are many ways to say the same thing. Always a better way to communicate-all the way from conventions to voice; but story remains the same.

    • Joe Pote on July 9, 2012 at 10:29 AM

      I’m with you, Cherry! It’s all about continually finding ways to improve communication.

    • P. J. Casselman on July 9, 2012 at 3:03 PM

      That’s true, Cherry. In person, we call market research “body language.” It definitely changes how I speak if everyone is slumped over or staring at their watches.

  41. Robin Patchen on July 9, 2012 at 9:56 AM

    I find it fascinating. As a writer, I don’t think I would change the way I write to appeal to certain readers’ tastes. Frankly, readers’ tastes are going to vary, and we can’t all write to the same block of readers.

    As a reader, as long as their research is anonymous (and how can we know if it is or not?) I don’t have a problem with it. It’s just market research. On the other hand, I would like to be consulted. It does feel like an invasion of privacy.

  42. Anna on July 9, 2012 at 9:40 AM

    I really hate being spied upon. It’s one thing to state upright that such research will be done through your eReader but to not say anything until after millions have already been sold is spying plain and simple. I already suspect our digital television can (or is) up to a two-way signal, and we all have digital media in all parts of out life.

  43. Connie Almony on July 9, 2012 at 9:30 AM

    As a writer I find it fascinating. For me, writing is about communicating. And communicating is not just about talking, but being heard. If your writing isn’t relatable in some way to some reader, why do it … that is unless your goal is to journal for yourself alone. That’s why it can be helpful to know how your writing is being utilized.
    On the other hand, I do worry about the creepiness of someone having access to any part of my behavior without giving me the option of shutting it off. I realize, when I highlight, that is being calculated by Amazon. I want to know if they have access to my personal notes as well. That should not be allowed, or at least we should be given the opportunity to block it. Still, it’s just a little creepy to me.

  44. Josin on July 9, 2012 at 9:03 AM

    Considering that in most cases an e-book “purchase” is a rental that can be revoked at the book-seller’s discretion (and subsequently removed from the reader’s device without permission or warning) this is an invasive technology that shouldn’t be used in the market as it stands. They’re taking too much for too little in return.

    • Elissa on July 9, 2012 at 2:44 PM

      Not having a reader, I did not know this about eBooks. Seems like yet another reason to stick with hard copy.

  45. Anthony Renfro on July 9, 2012 at 9:01 AM

    I’m on the fence.

    It sounds “in theory” like a great idea, but I could easily see so much abuse happening here.

  46. Jennifer Dyer on July 9, 2012 at 8:38 AM

    Information tracking is a fact in the technology age. Our phones, TV, and computers do it all the time too. As for changing what to write, knowing whether or not a book keeps the average reader engaged is good information. However, if publishers start wanting more Shades kind of books, count me out.

  47. Timothy Fish on July 9, 2012 at 8:36 AM

    The concept of using data from e-readers sounds good, but it would be important to know who is reading the book before we start changing our writing because of it. A few days ago, Steve Laube brought up the issue of Fifty Shade of Grey. I consider those millions of readers of “mommy-porn” and I can’t help but think that I wouldn’t want to change my writing to make it more palatable for them. Without the data split between those readers we would want to influence our work and those we would not, I don’t know that the data can be all that helpful.

  48. Heather Sunseri on July 9, 2012 at 8:34 AM

    Nothing about the research really surprises me. Nor does the fact that E-Reader habits are being studied. Nothing we do electronically is private.

    Does it surprise anyone that every public tweet since 2006 is being archived by Library of Congress?

    As a writer, I’d love to know where in my story a reader is tempted to stop reading. It’s so important for commercial writers to cut the boring stuff, so, yeah, I’d love to have that kind of useful information. But I’m not sure I would necessarily change my genre or subject matter simply because E-Reader studies suggest that erotica is now taking over vampires. 🙂

  49. Diana Harkness on July 9, 2012 at 8:19 AM

    Thanks for the info, but it’s only common sense. Novels are read quickly because that’s how the story moves and there’s little to digest. Non-fiction has much to chew on and can only be devoured in small doses. It is dropped because it may not fit the need at the time. Literary fiction falls between the two, because again there are words, phrases, sentences to ponder. I made no highlights in The Hunger Games or Game of Thrones series; I made plenty in books by Willa Cather and Ann Patchett.

  50. Stephen H. King on July 9, 2012 at 8:12 AM

    As a reader: Nah, don’t care. Kroger already knows how many containers of vegetable oil and garbage bags I go through; big deal. The fact that I keep trying and failing to get past page 2 of Ulysses isn’t something I consider particularly personal, either.

    As a writer: Nah, don’t care. If I’ve done my job right, I already know where my readers will like it. It’s too easy as it is to obsess over reviews; this information is really just a far more detailed and aggregated review.


    • Jennifer Major on July 9, 2012 at 2:22 PM

      Ummmm, what exactly are you doing with all that vegetable oil and garbage bags?

      • Stephen H. King on July 9, 2012 at 2:39 PM

        Did I say vegetable oil and garbage bags? I meant vegetables and, um, bags of fruit. And whipped cream. And….

        Okay, so I’ll take a Fifth on that.

        • Jennifer Major on July 9, 2012 at 3:55 PM

          HA! Liar! You’re making your own mosh pit! I knew it!

    • P. J. Casselman on July 9, 2012 at 3:00 PM

      Perhaps the time it will annoy writers is when editors hand back line by line market research critiques.
      “Seventy percent of the people thought it confusing to say ‘It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.’ Revise that to ‘It was a sexy time.’ That had a ninety.”

      • Stephen H. King on July 9, 2012 at 3:18 PM

        If it comes to that, I’d suggest seeking different editorial guidance. A competent editor, I would think, would realize that what works in one book won’t in another, and vice-versa.

        Then again, I’m not sure whether non-Indies have the freedom to seek different editorial guidance, so my point may be moot.

      • Jennifer Major on July 9, 2012 at 5:41 PM

        Add a chase scene, a blond nuclear physicist and some Semtech, you’ll get 95 AND a mention on Piers Morgan.

  51. Jennifer Major on July 9, 2012 at 8:12 AM

    Good morning Rachelle, I hope your skies are dull, smokeless and full of rain.

    As a whole, our culture tracks everything. So I’m not surprised whatsoever that e-readers are tracking things. There have been catalogue numbers on things for ages. That is how businesses track what people buy. It’s not shocking that some poor computer knows the ratio to Team Edward t-shirts to Team Bob, or whoever the other vampire is.
    I doubt I will change what I write to curry favour with market research. How do I know if I won’t be the next writer out of the gate who blows open the market and there are zillions of Team (Insert Name of Character I Created HERE.)
    Didn’t some poor blockhead tell Tony Hillerman to take out the parts about Indians?
    If *I* obeyed market polls, what else will I blindly follow?
    Thanks, but I’d rather leave a path to follow, than wander the trail like the other Disney lemmings.

    • Cherry Odelberg on July 9, 2012 at 10:07 AM


      • Jennifer Major on July 9, 2012 at 10:10 AM

        Hahaha! Thank you Cherry!!

        Personally,I’m not a vampire van. But I do wander between Team Chocolate and Team Fit Into My Old 501’s.

        • P. J. Casselman on July 9, 2012 at 3:23 PM

          Small world, I’m on the American chapter of those same teams!

    • Cherry Odelberg on July 9, 2012 at 10:16 AM

      I was rejected early on by a Disney imprint, so I don’t think I am a lemming ( Disney Lemmings, nice description; can you label any other publishers?

      • Jennifer Major on July 9, 2012 at 12:29 PM

        Bad Disney imprint!! They shouldn’t have rejected you. I’m sorry.

        By “Disney lemmings” I meant the hoards of people who blindly follow trends to their own doom. And it was a dig at Disney, who staged the thousands of lemmings tossing themselves off cliffs. Lemmings don’t do that.

    • Ann Bracken on July 9, 2012 at 12:32 PM

      Well said!

      Oh, and Jacob is a werewolf. I know this because I have daughters who roll their eyes if I get it wrong, which usually leads to huffs of annoyance when I ask if they’re praying when they do that.

    • P. J. Casselman on July 9, 2012 at 2:54 PM

      My son isn’t a werewolf, in spite of what others say. Just sayin’.

      Disney Lemmings works. I can’t believe how horrible their perfectly marketed shows are.
      “Let’s I.V. sugar right into their veins. See? They like it because they are sticking with it.”
      Well duh, they’re in a coma.

      • Jennifer Major on July 9, 2012 at 3:54 PM

        Phineas and Ferb is a cut above all others!!!My husband even watches it!!

        • P. J. Casselman on July 9, 2012 at 3:59 PM

          Ah, the cartoons–I referred to the shows with live actors. Poorly written lines, bad acting, and predictable stories periodically interrupted by overproduced voices singing song no ten year old should have to understand. 😛

          • Jennifer Major on July 9, 2012 at 4:09 PM

            Jim, I hate to tell ya, but Rodgers and Hammerstein, Steven Sondheim AND Gilbert and Sullivan all went to PBS.

            And the CBC.

  52. Marleen Gagnon on July 9, 2012 at 8:03 AM

    I think anyone who writes cannot help but to be influenced by the trends of the business. We strive to be better writers and in doing so we are naturally influenced by everything around us.

    As a reader, I am concerned about information being collected on my reading habits. I am an individual, and I don’t like being lumped into the group of, “you will like this book” or “you should buy this book”.

    • Etienne on July 9, 2012 at 12:43 PM

      I write when my muse grabs me by the short and curlies, digs her spurs into my sides and makes me do it.

  53. Amy Boucher Pye on July 9, 2012 at 7:46 AM

    Fascinating, Rachelle; I didn’t know. Thank you for sharing.

    (And I hope that at some point you’ll let us know how CO is faring post the fires.)

  54. Deborah Serravalle on July 9, 2012 at 7:42 AM


    I didn’t know this, thanks for enlightening me. I will tweet this article…

  55. Deborah Serravalle on July 9, 2012 at 7:40 AM

    As a reader I do not object to the collection of data.

    As a writer, I’m sure learning what readers prefer would influence my approach for at its core, writing is about storytelling and communication. Often I ask trusted readers to critique my work. The concept of using collective data is similar. I’m in favor of anything that helps me to understand how my work is viewed by my readers.

  56. carol brill on July 9, 2012 at 7:22 AM

    Like many others, No worry as a reader.

    As a writer, I think it makes sense to know my market and to adapt to their preferences if I want to sell books.

  57. Laura Libricz on July 9, 2012 at 6:14 AM

    Interesting to see that I’m not the only one who has the wireless on my Kindle turned off. I download everything via the USB cable.

    But as a writer, I definitely want to know when my readers set the book down and aren’t compeled to pick it back up, because that is when I personally put a book down and never finish it. My reading time is limited and I finish only those books have me so captured that I’m thinking about the story all the time. I’ll read these books a second time, maybe a third, to analyze why I was so captured. That’s a great writing lesson.

    • Etienne on July 9, 2012 at 12:41 PM

      Without exception, I puchase books from Barnes & Noble using my desktop or laptop computers, then transfer them by USB cable to my nook.

      How would it be helpful to know when a reader stopped reaing, if you didn’t know why? Maybe the reader is in the kitchen and stopped because a pot was about to boil over and needed attention. Maybe….(insert 1,001 other reasons there). Do these things know when the reading was started again? People have busy lives these days, and few, if any, of us have the time to settle down and actually ‘read’ a book for an hour or two, unless you take your Nook to bed with you.

      • Laura Libricz on July 9, 2012 at 3:37 PM

        I’d only take a really great book into the kitchen when a pot was about to boil over! Otherwise that thing has been already fired in the corner of a room because I couldn’t read anymore, for whatever reason. (But who would fire their Kindle or Nook into a corner? That used to be ok with a paperback, but not an e-reader!)

        • Etienne on July 9, 2012 at 3:40 PM

          Sometimes I sit at the kitchen table reading while waiting for things to happen. Depending upon the nature of those other things, I might leave my Nook to go to sleep, or I might shut it down.

  58. John Sauvé-Rodd (London UK) on July 9, 2012 at 4:49 AM

    1. As an author, would you be open to changing what you write based on research indicating readers’ preferences? YES, I WOULD. DUTCH LEONARD SAYS IN HIS 10 TIPS FOR WRITERS ‘LEAVE OUT THE BORING BITS’ AND I’D LOVE TO KNOW WHERE MY READERS FIND IT, WELL, BORING. LIKEWISE I’D LOVE TO KNOW WHERE THEY LINGER.


    I think that the supermarkets have blazed the trail on turning customer buying habits into well-targeted customer management so why not e books?

    • Jennifer Major on July 9, 2012 at 7:58 AM

      Exactly! They can track our broccoli consumption, so who’s surprised they track our reading habits?

      • John Sauvé-Rodd (London UK) on July 9, 2012 at 11:30 AM

        In supermarkets it is 1-for-1 tracking and ‘they’ know to a T about how much broccoli or beer we buy.

        But for e readers, I think knowing that I read chapter 1 of My Life As A Secret Desmodrome, but then jumped to chapter 3 is not nearly as useful as understanding that thousands did the same. The author would want to know, I think.

        And what’s wrong with briccoli, anyway?

        • Jennifer Major on July 9, 2012 at 12:24 PM

          Nothing! I love broccoli. It’s a vegetable. Like milk chocolate and Diet Coke.

  59. Amber Argyle on July 9, 2012 at 3:48 AM

    Knowledge is power. As authors, we can’t afford to stop learning and growing. Seems like a valuable tool that I’d definitely take adavantage of.

  60. Charise on July 9, 2012 at 2:46 AM

    I find it interesting. I’d like the feedback from readers. I don’t know that I would necessarily change, but I could see myself tweaking here and there. As another commenter said- if there is a common point readers are checking out or something they’re highlighting– that would be good info to have.

    I would like to think this would help promote better quality and, as the article suggested, make publishing decisions more scientific. Trends could be measured more carefully, so the market isn’t saturated. When a certain genre takes off, data could explain why (maybe). There’s a lot of anecdotal conversations going on about what readers want, like, etc This kind of data analysis adds the facts to those discussions.

    I just hope the data can be used in a realistic way. In my paycheck job, we like data. But the human factor can’t be overlooked. And while publishing is a business and therefore, data would be appealing. Writing is an art and cannot (should not) be controlled by statistics.

  61. P. J. Casselman on July 9, 2012 at 2:16 AM

    Oh no, this means the FBI will find out that I read “Catcher in the Rye.” It’s all over. Soon they’ll know of my plans to burn the flag of Tasmania in protest of the devil. The clock of my demise is ticking, which is alarming because it’s digital.

    • Jennifer Major on July 9, 2012 at 7:57 AM

      As long as there aren’t wires attached to the digital watch , you’re fine. But if you have a watch that talks to you and gives you orders, then the men with the white coats will definitely follow you around.

    • Stephen H. King on July 9, 2012 at 9:18 AM

      But remember: if you snooze, you lose.

    • Cherry Odelberg on July 9, 2012 at 10:11 AM

      Not to worry. As a pastor, the book burners will find you before the FBI gets there. Never fear, google will alert the ACLU to rescue you.

      • Jennifer Major on July 9, 2012 at 12:22 PM

        Ahahaha!! Well played Cherry!

  62. Iola on July 9, 2012 at 2:06 AM

    That data exactly summarises my reading habits, whether on Kindle, Kobo or DTB. I often read genre fiction straight through, but literary fiction and non-fiction can take longer. Or not get finished at all.

    While I understand the concept of the vision of the artist, surely writers write and get published to be read? Wouldn’t it be useful for them (and their publishers) to know that people buy AND read their books? All the way through?

    On privacy… My Kobo is the non-WiFi version, so I doubt they can track me. With WiFi, I guess all I have to do to stop them tracking me and my reading is turn it off, and download all books via the USB.

  63. Shannon Young on July 9, 2012 at 1:56 AM

    I would love to know at what point people stop reading my work and use that information to improve my writing. My writers’ group helps with this sort of thing, but it would be interesting to know the average from a larger sample in addition to the opinions of four individuals.

    This could be a useful tool, similar to the way blog statistics are a useful tool. The key would be to not obsess over the results any more than you should obsess over your stats. I think writers should use every tool at their disposal to improve their craft.

    As a reader, I love finding someone’s notes in the margins of a used book. The ‘frequently underlined’ feature on Amazon adds the same communal feel to the reading experience.

  64. Dean K Miller on July 9, 2012 at 1:23 AM

    The Indie Book retailer in town tracks my purchases on its computer, probably security cameras around as well. Mildly different, but still invasive.

    Privacy is a rare thing. Society is dependent on data, and once you swipe a credit card, sign up for social media or order anything over the phone, you are tracked.

    Cell phones are the same way, etc. But I have to leave now…I’m sure someone is watching me…

  65. Stephanie McGee on July 9, 2012 at 1:22 AM

    I doubt it would ever change what I write or how I write. I write the ideas that grab me by the throat and don’t let me go. If someday my whimsy little idea does the same for someone else, all the better.

    I’m not terribly concerned about the monitoring of ebook habits. Probably because the ebooks I buy tend to be research-related for writing and have no relevance whatsoever to my actual reading habits. The last two things of fiction I’ve read on my *Pad were eArcs sent to me from writer friends which I either transferred from my computer or downloaded from an email attachment.

    I’m not big on ebooks as of yet, if you couldn’t tell.

  66. Elissa on July 9, 2012 at 1:10 AM

    As a writer, I don’t think I’m capable of changing my style based on reader preferences. I write what I write. But the information would fascinate me anyway.

    As a reader… well, I don’t have an e-reader, and I don’t know when I’ll end up getting one. It’s not that I’m anti-technology, but I’m never thrilled with something that requires power to use. I don’t care how long the batteries last; they still need charging sometime. But I’m off-topic now.

    I don’t want writers to change what they write based on what I read or how I read it. I want them to remain true to their vision. So, I guess I’m less worried about my privacy than how the information would be used.

  67. terri patrick on July 9, 2012 at 12:55 AM

    My attitude is – it’s about time publishers started considering the reading experience they are providing. It’s more cost effective to provide what people are willing to buy.

    As a business woman, collecting market data makes sense.
    As a reader, it’s only the ebooks they monitor and has nothing to do with my personal privacy or lifestyle.
    As a writer, it would be TOTALLY COOL to know readers are highlighting something I wrote.

    The grocery store already knows what type of tissue I purchase and spits out coupons for common products to try.

    I like that I get recommends according to my reading purchases because I would never have found those stories in a bookstore. These books may have been on the shelves in the genre-of-my-choice aisle but as the authors are stacked alphabetically I would already need to know about that author, or the cover would have to catch my eye, yet the books are stacked spine out to save space on the shelf.

    I think this is a step in the right direction for the future of publishing. This information will not be a clear picture for a long time, if ever, as the bulk of the data will be generated by avid readers and genre enthusiasts which does not represent the reading public as a whole.

    Personally, I prefer my nonfiction in paper format as I like to flip pages back and forth.

    Novels are supposed to be a rollicking ride that grabs the reader by the throat and doesn’t let them breathe until the story is done. So the data they have gathered so far is not a surprise.

  68. Sofie on July 9, 2012 at 12:32 AM

    As a reader, it doesn’t bother me from a privacy angle, but I worry about some poor author wringing their hands over where I stopped in their book, because I tend to read 5 or 6 at once sporadically and with many life interruptions.

    As an author, I’d love to see the aggregated stats – is there a chapter or point that most people are putting the book down at, or taking a while to get through? I wouldn’t go back and rework the book for that reason, but it would be great for moving forward with things to address in future work.

    But I suspect I’d have to work at preventing the double-standard from my point above creeping in – ie, thinking that if I stop reading your book, it’s probably because my life got in the way, but if YOU stopped reading MY book something must be wrong with the book…

  69. Amy on July 9, 2012 at 12:19 AM

    At the International Reading Association’s annual conference this past spring, one company (I think it was Scholastic) was demonstrating an iPad app to help teachers track how their students read ebooks. This would include their reading rate as well as what kinds of words they clicked on to look up the definition.

    As a teacher, I see how this can be very valuable information.

    As a reader, I feel a little like “Big Brother” is watching.

  70. Jamie Raintree on July 9, 2012 at 12:18 AM

    Wow! That is so cool! As a reader, it really doesn’t bother me. As a writer and stats enthusiast, I really love it. I don’t know if it would change what I write but just understanding how readers read is fascinating to me and I think we can all learn a lot from it.

  71. Joe Iriarte on July 9, 2012 at 12:14 AM

    I am definitely paranoid in general when it comes to privacy, but I love my Nook. I’m under the impression–but I don’t know if it’s true or really how to check–that B&N can only do this sort of thing with books you download directly from them. EPUBS you get from other vendors show up in a different physical location, My Documents instead of My B&N Bookshelf or whatever. In any case my Nook is always, always in airplane mode. I buy books using my PC and use the Nook’s cable to transfer them. So I guess I’ve got the privacy bit more or less covered.

    From the writer’s standpoint, I get the concern about staying true to your artistic vision, but it’s a long way from peeking at the audience to see if they’re nodding off to selling out. I’m sure it can be taken too far, but if we’re just adding it to our arsenal of ways to improve a book, if it doesn’t mean the death of “hard” or “niche” books, then I guess it’s okay.

    • Jim Gilliam on July 9, 2012 at 6:47 PM

      The Arts & Entertainment online section of the Wall Street Journal has a great article that is right on point called: Your eBook is Reading You. Article, Video, and Slideshow. Find it here:

      • Jim Gilliam on July 9, 2012 at 7:09 PM

        Here’s an interesting and frightening article!

        FBI checking out Americans’ reading habits / Bookstores, libraries can’t do much to fend off search warrants

        Bob Egelko, Chronicle Staff Writer

        Published 04:00 a.m., Sunday, June 23, 2002

        For the first time since the Cold War, the FBI is visiting public libraries to keep tabs on the reading habits of people the government considers dangerous.

        The searches of some records kept by libraries and bookstores were authorized in an obscure provision of the USA Patriot Act, quietly approved by Congress six weeks after Sept. 11. The act, passed virtually without hearings or debate, allowed a variety of new federal surveillance measures, including clandestine searches of homes and expanded monitoring of telephones and the Internet.

        Section 215 gave the FBI authority to obtain library and bookstore records and a wide range of other documents during investigations of international terrorism or secret intelligence activities.

        Unlike other search warrants, the FBI need not show that evidence of wrongdoing is likely to be found or that the target of its investigation is actually involved is terrorism or spying. Targets can include U.S. citizens.

        Nearly everything about the procedure is secret. The court that authorizes the searches meets in secret; the search warrants carried by the agents cannot mention the underlying investigation; and librarians and booksellers are prohibited, under threat of prosecution, from revealing an FBI visit to anyone,

        including the patron whose records were seized.

        The only limitation in the law is that the investigation cannot be entirely based — though it can be partly based — on activities protected by the First Amendment, like speech or political organizing. For example, campus radicals, the subject of FBI surveillance in the past, could be targeted under the new law only if the government alleged they had some connection to terrorism or espionage.

        Civil libertarians are calling the program an attack on privacy and freedom of thought. Associations of libraries and bookstores are advising their members not to make or keep any records they don’t need.

        The American Library Association, in guidelines adopted in January, advised the nation’s librarians to “avoid creating unnecessary records” and to record information identifying patrons only “when necessary for the efficient operation of the library.”

        “They can’t find what we don’t have,” said Anne M. Turner, president of the California Library Association and director of the Santa Cruz library.

        Ann Brick, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer in San Francisco, called Section 215 “a stunning assault on . . . First Amendment freedoms” and said it also appears to violate constitutional standards on searches.

        But she said it could be hard to challenge, because “how can a target challenge government activity that they don’t know about?”

        About all that’s known publicly is that some libraries have been contacted.

        In a nationwide survey of 1,020 public libraries in January and February, the University of Illinois found that 85 — or 8.3 percent — of them had been asked by federal or local law enforcement officers for information about patrons related to Sept. 11, said Leigh Estabrook, director of the school’s Library Research Center.

        It’s not unheard of for a library to provide leads to authorities about terrorists. In one publicized incident, a local librarian in Florida recognized the names of three patrons on the list of suspected Sept. 11 hijackers a few days after the attacks and called the FBI, which then obtained computer records from the library.

        Librarians and the FBI have been down this road before, most recently in a Cold War initiative that began in 1973.

        Herbert Foerstel was the head of branch libraries at the University of Maryland at College Park in 1986 when he learned that FBI agents had approached staff at two science libraries and asked about the reading habits of anyone with a foreign-sounding name or a foreign accent.