Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Should e-readers track our reading habits?

I found this article, from NPR on Monday, very interesting:

E-Readers Track How We Read, But Is The Data Useful To Authors?

The story is about how e-readers track information about their readers, and not just what books they buy: also how fast they read, how far they get into a book, and so on.  This is relatively new territory, since publishers couldn't track this kind of information with paper books, but it's also rather controversial.  There is always an outcry about any attempt to gather information about our habits, and this is no different.

But if you think about it, this is nothing new, and it makes sense for publishers and authors to want to track this information.  Websites have been tracking our habits online for several years now, to better target their content to their readers' interests as well as to customize the ads visitors see.  It makes good business sense, because you don't want to spend time on products your audience isn't interested in, whether that's blog content... or a novel.

The arguments against authors using this knowledge, however, seemed to be rooted in the rose-colored view of authors creating a work of art... and if a novel is written with its audience's preferences in mind, it can't still be art!  This attitude is ridiculous because acknowledging your audience's role in your work's success is accepted in virtually every other form of media.  Movies are the biggest examples, of course, because they are only made if everyone thinks they are really going to make money (and even big-name actors won't star in movies they don't think will be successful).  Publishers routinely turn down book submissions because they aren't what is currently trendy.  Even artists utilize current stylistic trends, and even sometimes work on commission (which is, obviously, catering to the audience directly). Writing novels is as much a business as anything else, and writers who don't pay attention to what their audience wants are usually writers that aren't remembered.

As for privacy concerns...  Well, I can't say I think it's that big a deal whether booksellers or publishers know my reading habits, but I do know that I've found more than one good book thanks to the suggestions my Nook makes based on my other purchases.  So I can't say that a horror story entitled "I Know What You Read Last Summer" would scare me all that much!

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