In the evolving world of ebook publishing, Big data and “deep analytics” are increasingly being gathered and used to learn more about our reading habits. Depending on your perspective you may see this as another example of the way technology can be used to invade privacy, a slick marketing tool, or a valuable opportunity to learn more how people actually read – or all three. As Alexandra Alter notes in this WSJ article, in the print world reading was a private experience in which “publishers and authors had no way of knowing what happens when a reader sits down with a book.” The purchase and reading of ebooks changes all of that. When one picks up their Kindle or Nook (or other reading device) it marks a “profound shift in the way we read, transforming the activity into something measurable and quasi-public.” The progress a reader makes in a book can easily be tracked. How far they get, how long they stay engaged and what makes them keep reading are all questions that are being examined. This is great news for publishers and others wanting to know as much as possible about their audience. In fact, the folks at Barnes and Noble are already “starting to share their insights with publishers to help them create books that better hold people’s attention.”
However, this also brings up questions for those of us on the academic side of the equation. Will librarians and other academics be able to use this type information to discover more about the actually reading process and how it affects comprehension? Will it open up a whole new vistas for reading research? How will it impact the quality and content of what is being written as authors and publishers strive to meet trends in public taste? And what about privacy issues. Should readers be given the choice to opt out of this type of “surveillance” ? Are their legal issues in all of this that need to be resolved? For example, earlier this year, California passed a “reader privacy act,” which makes it more difficult for law-enforcement groups to gain access to consumers’ digital reading records.”
Obviously, this is an article well worth taking the time to read and consider. It is provocative, both in the promises that it offers and the issues that it raises.
As always, we’re interested in your take on both the potential benefits and concerns raised by this article so feel free to let us know what you think.