Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Habits of Reading Laid Bare?

There's a very interesting article at the New York Times about a new focus on start-up companies looking to offer monthly subscription services for books, in which the reading habits of the audience are tracked in detail.

I'm not entirely sure how this process would work, at least to garner meaningful data; I've sometimes had to set down my ebook on a given page to take care of business, only to come back some time later; do they have a way of gauging when you're simply fascinated by that chapter, or can they tell when you've been indisposed to handle other business?

Some of the article's data points are interesting, and reflective of the real problem the article touches on at the very end: the fact that tracking such data is going to create a problem for the creative process, when authors start looking for that smoking Chekov's Gun that will insure the readers keep pouring in and reading their book, will it lead to a stiffling of creativity? A sqluelching of risk-taking? Will authors motivated by the urge to get good metrics back from the readership start avoiding ideas which they might otherwise of entertained in exchange for the quick and easy buck?

In fairness, the authors who will use this and react to their audience are the sort who are on Smashwords cranking out the latest erotic not-Anita-Blake vampire porn novel, probably...or the latest zombie apocalypse novel, because after all we clearly don't have enough of those. I suspect that genuinely good authors, or at least those who are pursuing their own vision of their work, are going to avoid this service like the plague, or at best take a callous and morbid interest in it.

Worst case: a good author gets discouraged from even bothering after finding out that his audience only finished his books 4% of the time, and that 90% of them spend too much time lingering on the alien sex scene.

My personal preference is to avoid these services. They will only lead to more of the same (Publishers: this is not something all readers want, believe it or not), will make me self-conscious of my reading habits, and frankly I would personally like to put as many marketing gurus out of business as possible, or at least keep my money from getting into their pockets whenever I possibly can!

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