Big Brother Books


According to Ben Macintyre of The Times, using an e-reader is changing the way books are written. The device not only collects data on which books you read and how often – it also measures how fast you read them, which bits you reread and which bits you highlight to share. This data is then fed back to the publishing houses who use it to decide what to publish next. It can also be shared with the writers to either customise their online publications or inform their future writing. The relationship between reader and writer just got closer.

With my writing hat on, this is great news. More detailed feedback means more precise editing and writing development, which means the work is more likely to be a success. (In theory – frankly, with the number of people reading 50 Shades at the moment, who knows what drives reading choice?)

With my telecoms hat on, this is par for the course. Big Data Analytics is a very hot buzzword in the industry at the moment – drilling deeper and deeper into customer behaviour to fully customize products and services, predict desire, and so on. Everyone who has anything to do with mobile devices is currently scrambling to catch up with BDA, and this is just an example of a sector doing it well.

With my reader hat on, I’m less sure. I don’t actually own an e-reader but if I did, the thought of it measuring my eye speed is instinctively uncomfortable. It’s watching me. Isaac Asimov would have a field day. On the flip side, if it leads to more books that I like… see, it’s a tough one.

Civil liberties groups have complained that amassing information about reader behaviour is an invasion of privacy, another way for digital businesses to garner valuable information…The advent of a machine that logs your tastes while expanding your mind is another way to improve books and sell more of them to people who might actually finish them.

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