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Your Kindle reads you

July 2, 2012

Here is a disturbing story about how iPads, Kindles, Nooks, and other eReaders monitor your reading behavior and report it back.


For centuries, reading has largely been a solitary and private act, an intimate exchange between the reader and the words on the page. But the rise of digital books has prompted a profound shift in the way we read, transforming the activity into something measurable and quasi-public.

The major new players in e-book publishing—Amazon, Apple and Google—can easily track how far readers are getting in books, how long they spend reading them and which search terms they use to find books. Book apps for tablets like the iPad, Kindle Fire and Nook record how many times readers open the app and how much time they spend reading. Retailers and some publishers are beginning to sift through the data, gaining unprecedented insight into how people engage with books.

In a related feature, interactive fiction publisher Coliloquy (yes, it really does have that spelling) describes the “perfect man,” as divined from monitoring its romance-novel readers, but that description is simply too silly to quote.

One Comment leave one →
  1. July 2, 2012 6:27 pm

    This news isn’t surprising at all, and for an avid ebook reader like me, it’s not all that disturbing either. I read using Nook, Kindle, Google Books, and iBooks formats variously on a PC, a MacBook Pro, an iMac, an iPhone, an iPad2, and an old Nook. I’m delighted with Cloud technology, and enjoy different hardware/device vantages and advantages. It’s enjoyable to me to know that other readers are finding some of the same things I do, and I like the thought that I’m first to see certain things (which I highlight and note as I read, presumably not just for myself). Reading is always mostly going to be a solitary act; I mean, we readers have much agency that can’t be taken away from us ever — we get to decide which books, whether to finish any of them, whether to read right through in a single sitting, where to read, and so forth. If a publisher in a publishing company want to try to market to me, based on the data collected, then good luck. I’m pretty picky even though I have a wide range of interests and a taste for a variety of genres and styles and story lengths and book lengths.

    The best quote in the feature you link to is this one:

    “We’re not going to shorten ‘War and Peace’ because someone didn’t finish it.”

    But I think the publisher quoted has this part wrong, saying, “The thing about a book is that it can be eccentric, it can be the length it needs to be, and that is something the reader shouldn’t have anything to do with.”

    I object to Galassi talking about “the reader” in this way, as if I, a reader, am melded in with Every Reader, who might by measured reading habits with War and Peace be so well understood and predicted. Not all of us readers (even being watched reading War and Peace) will agree on its perfect length.

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