Discussions Quiz

The Blurb of the Future?

Last week I read an interesting article about the data collected by e-readers. Unknown to most readers these electronic devices collect a vast amount of information about the way we read books. This data could be  analysed and displayed alongside a book to help the reader make purchasing decisions, or used by publishers to create books that are more engaging. I am fascinated by this and wonder if the publishers of the future are likely to embrace this new data.

With the huge increase in books available, mainly fueled by the rise of self publishing, I wonder if statistics could become the new gatekeepers?

Could this be the blurb of the future?

Average Reading Time

Without the ability to flick through a physical copy it is difficult to judge how long a book is. Knowing the average length of time taken to complete a book would be a useful addition to the blurb.

Percentage of Readers who Complete the Book

Knowing how many people complete a specific book would also be of interest to me, although this would have to be viewed in conjunction with ratings data. A low completion rate could indicate complexity or books that divide opinion and so would not necessarily be an indication of quality.

Average Number of Reader Highlights

This would be one of the best indications of quality. Outstanding books have an enormous number of different quotes that could be highlighted, whereas good reads that are for entertainment alone may not have an individual passage that stands out.

Average Reading Pace

I’d find a graph of average reading pace very useful. I enjoy both slow, complex reads and fast entertaining ones, but need to be in the right mood for each. Some books are marketed in a confusing way and the reading pace is not always obvious from the cover. It would mean that I’d never end up trying to understand complex theories on public transport again!

It would also be useful to know whether the pace of the book increases towards the end or remains slow throughout. Some books have slow opening chapters (as they develop the characters and the setting), but suddenly increase in pace later on. Knowing when this cliff-hanger occurs can be helpful.

Other Statistics

Other statistics like the average number of different sittings the book is read in, or the percentage of people who go on to buy other books from the same author, would also be interesting, but I don’t think they’d have any influence on my book purchasing decisions.

Publishers could benefit too

Publishers could study this data to discover more about the way we interact with books. Before publication they could find the point at which most readers abandon a certain book and edit that section to make it more engaging. They could also mine the information to discover the chain of events that lead customers to buy more books from the author.

Consumer feedback has been used by film and television companies for years, but this is a completely new development in the field of publishing. It may prove useless in the unpredictable world of literary fiction, but if it can be used to improve profitability in commercial fiction then there’ll be more money available to take risks in other areas. I think that analysis of reader behaviour can only be of use to the industry,

Would you like to see statistics about the books you are thinking of purchasing?

Do you think publishers could benefit from mining this reader data?

24 replies on “The Blurb of the Future?”

Tony, I think it is quite bad that most readers aren’t aware that e-readers have this ability to collect stats. I fully support your disconnection status. 🙂

I find this fascinating. As an author, I think it would be good information to know when the book was put down, or when the reading time increased. I’d like to see my own stats. I know I rarely put a book down if I’m within a hundred pages of the end unless it is really bad.

Sandy, If I was an author I think I’d find it quite depressing to analyse where readers gave up on my book – I think that is something best done by publishers who aren’t emotionally attached to the writing. I guess it is a bit like reading negative reviews for your book. Authors have a tough time!

I find the privacy issues with ereaders (something I’ve just learned about) scary, no matter how interesting it is. It makes me glad I’ve got a cheap no-internet one that can’t read any of the regular formats. That said, I agree that it would be interesting to see how such data could change the industry, how it would enlighten publishers to what people truly want to read instead of readers being targeted with yet another vampire book. At the same time though, I wonder if this would further reduce the “need” for reviewers? But yes, like Tony, I’m saying no to your stats question. Maybe if they were only available to the individual reader, otherwise…

Charlie, I think reviewers would be just as important in a world full of stats. They would help the reader to know the reason a high percentage of people abandoned a certain book. Perhaps it is just the scientist in me that loves as many stats as possible!

I think this be a bad idea more likely to put of non readers that may be scared even more to pick a book up and a good reason not to get a kindle if this is what they do with what you read on it ,all the best stu

Stu, I’m not sure this would put non-readers off. I think knowing little about what is contained in a book might scare them more. If they know it is quick, easy to read and abandoned by very few people that might be the kind of reassurance a non-reader needs…although I admit the big brother aspect might worry them…

As someone who’s based their whole blog on books and graphs, it’s no surprise that I’m, if not in favour, not that bothered by this. Businesses have always sought to find out what we want, or think we want. Blurbs, reviews, blogs all form part of the process of choosing a book. For me, they are relatively unimportant. As long as the author is long dead or forgotten or recommended by someone who is also dead or forgotten then I’m interested.

Colin, Thank you for commenting on my blog for the first time! Apart from the dead author bit I think we are on a very similar page with this. Big companies have done this for a long time in other areas and I think it can only help the publishing world. It will be interesting to see if anything other than the marketing campaign around a book changes.

If nothing else it might show publishers that readers are willing to read something new or out of the ordinary. In this way it could open up publishing to new authors. I would say that the whole dead authors thing is a bit exaggerated. But it’s not. I really do only read dead ones.

Colin, I like my modern fiction far too much to only read dead authors. With the exception of Saramago I think all my favourite authors are still alive. Will nothing persuade you to try a living author? Not even a book written a long time ago?

I was going to say Muriel Spark but she’s dead. Elizabeth Taylor she’s dead. Arnold Bennett, well, he’s very dead. It’s a bit of a Deadathon really. I used to walk into Borders in Glasgow and panic at the thought of all these living authors. Dead ones have proved themselves. I don’t have to worry about their worthiness.

Colin, I understand your wariness about trying brand new fiction, but what about things published 30 years ago? My favourite book is A Fine Balance – it has proved worthy for a few decades – is that not good enough? Although seeing your reading taste I think it probably won’t be for you. I’m just interested in your aversion to living authors 🙂

Caroline, I’m pleased I was able to inform you about this. At least you now know to turn off your internet connection if you don’t want these stats to be collected.

I think I suffer from that dreadful conceit that I am unique and not necessarily likely to respond the way others do! I’m sure it’s probably not true, but I still seem to cling to it. But I do think the information might be really interesting to the author of the book. I’d certainly want to know how many people actually got to the end of something I’d written, and where they had slowed down and speeded up in the reading. Perhaps wordpress will one day give us that information on our blogs???

litlove, I already collect this sort of information for my blog. I know exactly how long the average reader spends on each post and I use that as a sign of engagment/quality. I can then adjust my posts and see how that affects average reader time etc. Number of returning visitors etc can be said to be similar to number who finish a book – it is all interesting stuff!

Publishers would certainly benefit from this, but I don’t think readers will. Reading is such a personal activity; knowing a few dry statistics about how long it took some anonymous stranger to finish a certain book should have no influence on whether or not I choose to read it…

Biblibio, I’m not sure it is of no use. It isn’t about one anonymous stranger, but an average of many readers. I often see how long a film is before deciding whether or not to watch it one evening. I can see me doing a similar thing with a book if, for example, I’m about to set out on a train journey of a certain length. The statistics are more about me deciding when I should read a specific book, rather than if.

I think publishers will use this data but there will always be debate about what certain data points mean. I see the same in the world of advertising that I work in. It will be interesting to see what the future will hold.

Kathleen, Yes – I can see there being a lot of debate about the data points! I’m sure it will take a long time for publishers to be able to use them with certainty.

I do a lot of stats and insist on looking at stats for work. But I don’t want it to decide my book choices. Seems to kill all the fun of discovering a new book or a new author, for me. Thanks for the intriguing news!

I think this is a fascinating idea. I’d particularly be interested in the time taken to read and percentage of readers who completed the book. Of course the statistics couldn’t tell you everything but after a while you would get a sense of where you fitted into a point on the graph.

It would be especially good to see the correlation between award-winning books and percentage of readers who didn’t finish.

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