Don’t Look Now, But You Are Being Followed

The world is filled with paranoid delusional conspiracy theorists involved in an elaborate campaign out to get the rest of us!

Attention everyone! To the underground bunker!

So, you think you own an e-book “reader”?  Think again bunky. That e-book reading machine is spying on you.

Seriously folks, if you don’t know this already, your e-book reader is a two-way communication device that allows you to pull in any book you desire, but also transmits information back about what you are reading, where you stopped reading and even what sections you highlighted.

Late last year, Amazon released some of its Kindle reading data to The Atlantic and it revealed some interesting facts.  For instance, the most highlighted Bible passage was from the NIV Bible, from Philippians:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
(Phil. 4:6-7)

Not a bad section to highlight, now that I think about it.

The same wireless connection that allows a consumer to download an e-book in a busy airport or moving automobile also transmits data on your reading and highlighting habits to the e-book seller. They know a lot more than you think they know.

For instance, Amazon knows what books have been purchased and never read. They know where readers tended to stop reading a particular book. They know what sections are the strongest based on what was highlighted.

When Amazon decided to get into publishing books a few years ago, they started out with an enormous amount of information on millions of book titles and reading trends. While they have not be able to achieve significant distribution of their own proprietary or self-published titles outside of the Amazon online world, they certainly have information no one else has on reading habits of their customers.

One of the issues that e-book reading data has created is to put some cold facts to the myth that just because someone buys a book, they read it in its entirety.

A percentage will read part of it.

A percentage will never read it.

A couple weeks ago, Canadian based e-book retailer Kobo released reading data and specifically mentioned Donna Tartt’s bestseller The Goldfinch was finished by less than half of the readers in Britain and Canada. Still it was a best-seller.

They also mentioned that the national average for finishing a mystery novel is 62%. That means that over a third of mystery readers are not intrigued enough to find out whodunit.

All this reminds me of the various surveys and studies done over the years related to Bible reading. Some organizations will look at increased Bible sales or distribution as an indication of increased Bible reading.  That might not be the case.

Every author would like to sell a lot of their work and have people read it, like it and be ready to buy their next book. Keep in mind that you are fighting to maintain reader attention in every chapter.

Nothing can stop a compelling book from being read to…

The End.

To read the full article on Amazon from The Atlantic, click here.

For the full article about Kobo data, click here.


12 Responses to Don’t Look Now, But You Are Being Followed

  1. Avatar
    DIANA HARKNESS January 27, 2015 at 5:20 am #

    Good post, but not entirely accurate. There is no requirement for me to sync my Kindle, so I don’t. Wireless stays off. I sync one time when I purchase it to register, and may sync it once again if I purchase a new one. You can go years without syncing. I have many hundreds of books on my Kindle which I have obtained both from Amazon and the library. Not syncing removes the library expiration date, so if I take too long to finish a book, the library can still lend it out. I don’t want to know what other readers have highlighted any more than I want a highlight paper book to read. Sure, it might take a minute to download a book onto my computer and transfer it to the Kindle, but IMHO it’s worth the extra time and effort!

    • Dan Balow
      Dan Balow January 27, 2015 at 6:42 am #

      You correct for your personal situation since you know a lot about how this works and have an opinion on it. But Amazon and other companies still have billions of data points they use to observe trends and make decisions.

    • Avatar
      Lisa Taylor January 29, 2015 at 5:01 pm #

      While this is true, it’s not how most people use these devices. If you want your kindle synched with the kindle app on your computer or iPad or smart phone… you have to turn on wireless. BTW, Apple does the same thing — collects data ostensibly for the purposes to allowing us to be able to synch between devices. However, I’ve not heard of Apple using the data to date (though my ignorance may not be indicative of anything other than… my ignorance :-).

  2. Avatar
    Jackie Layton January 27, 2015 at 5:27 am #

    I never considered this before. Pretty creepy.

    But if somebody is kidnapped with their e-reader, it sounds like if they turn it on Amazon could alert the police to their location. So that would be a good thing. Right?

    I’ll definitely think about your post before I download my next book. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Avatar
    Robin Patchen January 27, 2015 at 6:56 am #

    I confess: I’m one of the people who download The Goldfinch and never finished it.

    Interesting stuff. As a writer and editor, I’d love to have access to all that information. Perhaps we could learn how to write books that are so compelling, nobody could put them down. Alas, perhaps that’s a matter of personal taste.

  4. Avatar
    Angie Dicken January 27, 2015 at 7:06 am #

    Wow! This is really interesting! Makes me want to write a book that hooks the reader all the way to The End. Also makes me feel a little like I am in a George Orwell Novel when my kindle is on! 🙂

  5. Avatar
    Teresa-Rae January 27, 2015 at 7:30 am #

    Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this method of collecting data caught on straight across the board? That way, writers could focus on writing books and not have to consistently deal with the endless publishing politics of marketing and sales.

  6. Avatar
    Amber Schamel January 27, 2015 at 7:51 am #

    While knowing howany people stopped reading my book and where would be invaluable, I don’t think Amazon should be able to collect such data without the specific consent of the readers. Privacy no longer exists in this digital age.

    I do have a lot of books on my kindle that I’ve never read yet. Though, obviously, I intend to.

  7. Avatar
    Jeanne Takenaka January 27, 2015 at 8:43 am #

    Fascinating, Dan. I didn’t realize my Kindle was telling on me—particularly all the books I’ve downloaded and have yet to read. Sigh.

    It’s interested that they can compile such data, but I agree with other commenters, I’m not thrilled with how much information Amazon can pick up about me.

    It does make me want to do my best to write a compelling book. But again, what’s compelling to one reader will probably bore another reader.

  8. Avatar
    Carol Ashby January 27, 2015 at 9:55 am #

    It’s not the kindle you should be worried about. Read up on what your smart tv does and tremble!

    As anyone working in any type of security knows, just because you’re paranoid, that does not mean they’re not really out to get you.

    Bwahaahaahaa! (Phonetic evil laugh?)

  9. Avatar
    Beverly Brooks January 27, 2015 at 10:25 am #

    Good plot material – watchful e-readers…

    I prefer the printed books but what I took away is the very potent message that we mystery writers (not to leave anyone out – that’s my genre) need to make sure to draw our readers along until THE END!

    Thanks for the ideas and article links Mr. Dan.

  10. Avatar
    Naomi Musch January 27, 2015 at 1:25 pm #

    Hmm… I, too, have downloaded a multitude of books I haven’t finished. Then again, I’ve downloaded books I’ve already read in paperback, and simply wanted to own an e-version of “just in case”. That’s not saying I’ll read it. So the data they receive is skewed, nevertheless, I can see how it might benefit their research on a percentage basis, given the mass quantities they’re pulling in. All very interesting, this ever-changing, techy world of ours. Then there are the funny things I highlight: Oh — that’s a pretty word. I like it! Wow, lovely description there! (Random enough to pull a few brows together.)

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