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Publishers Consider Ways To Further Use Data Collected By E-Readers

While listening to National Public Radio (NPR) in my car on Monday, I heard a very interesting report about how publishers are considering how to further use the data collected by e-readers (e.g., Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook). Specifically, publishers are considering ways to use the data collected to give more detailed feedback to authors.

First some background for those who don't use e-readers, or who use them and haven't read the associated privacy policies. E-readers and e-books are increasing in popularity. Pew Research found:

"One-fifth of American adults (21%) report that they have read an e-book in the past year... 88% of those who read e-books in the past 12 months also read printed books... The average reader of e-books says she has read 24 books (the mean number) in the past 12 months, compared with an average of 15 books by a non-e-book consumer... 30% of those who read e-content say they now spend more time reading, and owners of tablets and e-book readers particularly stand out as reading more ... 72% of American adults had read a printed book and 11% listened to an audiobook in the previous year, compared with the 17% of adults who had read an e-book... E-book reading happens across an array of devices, including smartphones...."

About e-books and public libraries, Pew Research found:

"Some 12% of Americans ages 16 and older who read e-books say they have borrowed an e-book from a library in the past year... E-book borrowers say they read an average of 29 books in the past year, compared with 23 books for readers who do not borrow e-books from a library... more than three-quarters of the nation’s public libraries lend e-books... 58% of all library card holders say they do not know if their library provides e-book lending services... 46% of those who do not currently borrow e-books from libraries say they would be “very” or “somewhat” likely to borrow an e-reading device that came loaded with a book they wanted to read... 58% of Americans have a library card..."

Both surveys include plenty more results, but it is clear that consumers would read more e-books if they knew that their public library provided them. The benefits of e-readers are clear:

  • Convenient: can carry with you several books without the heavy weight,
  • Books don't take up shelf space in your home, and
  • E-reader providers can learn your reading habits and recommend similar books.

In 2012, the EFF compared the privacy policies of various e-readers. The disadvantages:

  • Loss of privacy: e-readers collect data about your reading habits and the online searches you performed to find e-books you want to read,
  • Some e-readers collect and track the annotations consumers may make on an e-book text,
  • The privacy policies of some e-readers are vague about exactly what data they collect (e.g., e-book purchases from other sources),
  • Selection may be limited if your e-reader requires a certain format (e.g., AZW, ePub, PDF, RTF, etc.),
  • Many books are not available in e-book format,
  • Most e-readers share your readhing habits with other companies, while some offer opt-out capabilities.

The obvious data collected by e-readers includes the types (e.g., genre) of books downloaded onto your e-reader, when you downloaded e-books, the books read, and your reading patterns (e.g., the types/genres of books read). Other data collected, that you may not be aware of, includes how fast you read a book, which portions of the book you actually read, what e-book you immediately purchased next after completing a specific book (e.g., this probably applies to books in a series), and any annotations you made on the e-book text.

Some consumers may abandon an e-book after reading the first few chapters or a few pages. Some consumers may skip the introduction. Other consumers may read the last chapter first. For a given book, many consumers may skip a common chapter. For example, the Wall Street Journal reported that an average consumer read the third book in the "Hunger Games" series in about 7 hours, or 57 pages per hour.

Now, publishers and authors can know all of this. Publishers consider this data collected an opportunity to provide more feedback to authors. Thankfully, many authors will ignore this feedback and keep the creative process first (e.g., write what they intended regardless). But the data collection continues.

The e-readers with WiFi capabilities (e.g., Kindles, mobile devices, tablets) can combine geolocation data with your reading habits to determine where you read certain books. Whether or not this data collection bothers you is probably a personal choice.

If your reading habits include books about a certain medical condition, then you might be concerned about the loss of privacy. If your reading habits include topics to research a new business venture you have to keep secret until launch, then you might be concerned about the loss of privacy.

One way to think about e-readers: reading a book was historically something you did alone and in private. Not anymore. What's your opinion of e-readers and e-books?

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