Looking at the Cloud (from Both Sides Now)

February 20, 2012 § 6 Comments

We were  recently reminded by several speakers at the If Book Then conference in Milan and again at Tools of Change, that there are new technologies now coming into broader use and applicability that allow for much richer data mining of reader behavior. Up until now, the ability to track when e-reading devices are being used, how much time is being spent on entire books and sections within the books, whether readers are finishing the book and other data has been limited to device manufacturers who typically have shared only very limited data with publishers. The benefits of mining this data could be very important for acquisition editors, marketing departments and to senior management in making decisions about what and how to publish.

For example (one provided by Mike Shatzkin at the Milan conference), knowing that readers are reading an author’s first novel straight through without breaks might suggest that further acquisitions from that author might be in order…even ahead of knowing sales figures for the book. Another example, and perhaps more compelling, is for non-fiction publishers (and particularly those in educational publishing) to know which chapters are garnering the most attention, suggesting areas of emphasis for future titles or perhaps ‘chunking’ out those sections for separate sales. If you let your imagination wander a little, you can think of a number of similar examples that could be valuable in planning and executing a publishing program.

With cloud-based reading rapidly becoming a reality, it will be possible for publishers to track this data themselves if they choose to operate (or outsource on the right terms) their own cloud readers. Obviously having one’s own data allows for richer mining to produce, presumably, better results. Such clouds could be ‘built’ by publishers but are more likely, in our opinion, to be licensed from third-party ‘white label’ providers. We are aware of at least one company, 24 Symbols, that is already beginning to license such a service.

We’ve long argued that data is critical in driving successful publishers and will be even more so in the future. The developments discussed in this post bear following. The reality isn’t that far away.

We’ll leave you with one open question: How will readers respond?

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§ 6 Responses to Looking at the Cloud (from Both Sides Now)

  • Don,

    Our friends at 24symbols have a very interesting offer around a subscription model, and are showing the potential of cloud-based reading.

    But I believe what you describe in this post is more in line with what we do at Widescript: a brandable cloud-based e-reader where the publisher has full control over appearance and how they want to distribute content.

    Naturally, we gather and further process data for display on a publisher’s analytics dashboard.

  • And regarding how readers will respond: I am generally concerned with privacy issues.

    Data is abound and perused almost anywhere these days. How people behave in airports, what people buy at supermarkets, and how people read. I highly doubt Amazon and Apple are not gathering these data – I argue this is nothing new, only that we are making it available to publishers.

    I believe we should draw the line when it comes to personally identifiable information, in which case readers should be fully aware and eventually able to opt out.

    • Dear Don and Francisco,

      I would differentiate between the whitelabel approach, which allows publishers to fine tune their cloud reading offering, and the analytics. In our case (24symbols) the analytics can be accessed both by whitelabel customers and by those publishers that upload their books to 24symbols.com (and it is a clear reason why some of them work with us)

      Of course the question is what type of data does the publisher require to take informed decisions. While there are many stats available once you can check the reader’s behavior on the cloud, the key point is to show the ones that are relevant to the publisher and author without, as Francisco said, compromising the reader’s right to not be bothered or “filtered”. But this is a typical dashboard/data management problem that all industries have to deal with sooner or later.


  • […] focus in the busily writing Don Linn‘s latest contribution to Firebrand’s Whiteboard, Looking at the Cloud (from Both Sides Now). With cloud-based reading rapidly becoming a reality, it will be possible for publishers to track […]

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