Posts Tagged books

Spying on how we read

[tweetmeme source=”plamere” only_single=false] I’ve been reading all my books lately using Kindle for iPhone.  It is a great way to read – and having a library of books in my pocket at all times means I’m never without a book.  One feature of the Kindle software is called Whispersync.  It keeps track of where you are in a book so that if you switch devices (from an iPhone to a Kindle or an iPad or desktop), you can pick up exactly where you left off.  Kindle also stores any bookmarks, notes, highlights, or similar markings you make in the cloud so they can be shared across devices.   Whispersync is a useful feature for readers, but it is also a goldmine of data for Amazon.  With Whispersync data from millions of Kindle readers Amazon can learn not just what we are reading but how we are reading.  In brick-and-mortar bookstore days, the only thing a bookseller, author or publisher could really know about a book was how many copies it sold.  But now with the Whispersync Amazon can get learn all sorts of things about how we are reading.  With the insights that they gain from this data, they will, no doubt,  find better ways to help people find the books they like to read.

I hope Amazon aggregates their Whispersync data and give us some charts about how people are reading.  Some charts I’d like to see:

  • Most Abandoned – the books and/or authors that are most frequently left unfinished.  What book is the most abandoned book of all time? (My money is on ‘A Brief History of Time’) A related metric – for any particular book where is it most frequently abandoned?  (I’ve heard of dozens of people who never got past ‘The Council of Elrond’ chapter in LOTR).
  • Pageturner – the top books ordered by average number of words read per reading session.  Does the average Harry Potter fan read more of the book in one sitting than the average Twilight fan?
  • Burning the midnight oil – books that keep people up late at night.
  • Read Speed – which books/authors/genres have the lowest word-per-minute average reading rate?   Do readers of Glenn Beck read faster or slower than readers of Jon Stewart?
  • Most Re-read – which books are read over and over again?  A related metric – which are the most re-read passages?  Is it when Frodo claims the ring,  or when Bella almost gets hit by a car?
  • Mystery cheats – which books have their last chapter read before other chapters.
  • Valuable reference – which books are not read in order, but are visited very frequently? (I’ve not read my Python in a nutshell book from cover to cover, but I visit it almost every day).
  • Biggest Slogs – the books that take the longest to read.
  • Back to the start – Books that are most frequently re-read immediately after they are finished.
  • Page shufflers – books that most often send their readers to the glossary, dictionary, map or the elaborate family tree.  (xkcd offers some insights)
  • Trophy Books – books that are most frequently purchased, but never actually read.
  • Dishonest rater – books that most frequently rated highly by readers who never actually finished reading the book
  • Most efficient language – the average time to read books by language.  Do native Italians read ‘Il nome della rosa faster than native English speakers can read ‘The name of the rose‘?
  • Most attempts – which books are restarted most frequently?  (It took me 4 attempts to get through Cryptonomicon, but when I did I really enjoyed it).
  • A turn for the worse – which books are most frequently abandoned in the last third of the book?  These are the books that go bad.
  • Never at night – books that are read less in the dark than others.
  • Entertainment value – the books with the lowest overall cost per hour of reading (including all re-reads)

Whispersync is to books as the audioscrobbler is to music.  It is an implicit way to track what you are really paying attention to.  The data from Whispersync will give us new insights into how people really read books.  A chart that shows that  the most abandoned author is James Patterson may steer readers away from Patterson and toward  books by better authors.  I’d rather not turn to the New York Times Best Seller list to decide what to read.   I want  to see  the Amazon Most Frequently Finished book list instead.

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