Is your Ebook reading you?

In soviet Russia...

An interesting discussion on NPR’s most recent On The Media podcast about eBook publishers collecting data on how their books are read.

Unique among modern media, it’s been impossible to measure the printed word against metrics. Now publishers can find out with certainty which chapters of 50 Shades of Grey people read more than once, or how long it takes to read The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo – although I can probably help them with that one. A very long time.

The podcast, well worth subscribing to if you can get beyond the jazz theme music, makes some good points about the privacy issues here. We all joke people about “ending up on a list somewhere” for reading about contentious subjects – sexuality, security or politics – but this collection of data makes those lists a very real prospect.

But the bigger issue for me, and one not fully addressed by OTM, is that this brings a disturbing new dimension to the creation of literature. Sure, publishers claim they’re “not going to shorten ‘War and Peace’ because someone didn’t finish it,” but the temptation to focus group the last auteur medium is bound to be irresistable. Giving the people what they want is undeniably good for business, but it’s very, very bad for the human race…


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