Tuesday, July 3, 2012

eBook Datamining

A lot of people have been discussing the way eBooks are changing the commercial landscape of publishing--and of libraries, for that matter. But I came across a fascinating article in the Wall Street Journal yesterday that talks about how eBooks are also changing the books themselves--and the way authors write them. I'll give you a second to click over to the article and check it out before I give some of my thoughts.

All good?


I know I should have considered this earlier, but it never occurred to me that Apple or Amazon or Barnes & Noble would be able to monitor my reading habits by watching how I read a book. I can't say I really like the idea. Honestly, I think it might be something that turns a lot of people off reading eBooks. In my experience, many people look at reading as an intensely private affair. Yes, they'll be in book clubs, but no one goes around to check and see if you actually read the whole book, or if you skimmed it. Or if you just watched the movie.

I'm a pretty public person. I don't hide what I'm doing. I post what I'm reading on Goodreads a lot of the time. But that's all voluntary. The idea that some program or robot will be watching me--all the time . . . That's unsettling.

It's understandable why Apple and Amazon might want to do it, of course. They want to see what they can sell you next. The pretense is that they want to give you your next favorite book, but in the end, what they really want to do is make money off you. This makes me wonder if Apple is watching what apps I'm using on my iPads. How much of my information is really private?


And speaking as an author, the idea that I might use the reading statistics of my books to make my books more marketable . . . That scares me a fair bit. (Maybe I'm just in an easily-frightened frame of mind today). When I write a book, I write for myself. Yes, I'll ask myself questions about what will be popular or marketable, but in the end, I write it the way I want to write it. The times when I've crowd-sourced the writing--written what my readers want, or what my writing group wants--the results are less than impressive.

In any case, we certainly live in interesting times. I've said it before--this is the Wild West of the electronic age, despite how far we think we've come. Times are changing very quickly, and it's anyone's guess where we'll be when all the cards hit the floor. Or maybe the cards will never hit the floor. Maybe there's no floor to hit anymore.


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