More Numbers

Since there seems to be some interest, let’s talk about book sellers and reader tracking a little more. If we don’t, I’m going to have to talk about Charleston, and I really don’t want to do that.

Yes, Amazon does keep track of how much you read. (I’ll keep the focus on the big A for simplicity’s sake, but let’s be honest: so does everyone else.) As we’ve seen, it’s partly for paying royalties on books read through Kindle Unlimited. But they also do it in books you’ve purchased.

Consider: the Number One “me too” feature in the major players’ e-book readers (and many of the minor players’ too) is the ability to synchronize your current reading position across all of your devices. Leave your Kindle home by mistake? No problem, open the Kindle app on your phone and pick up where you left off.

That position information has to be stored somewhere. If the location is under the control of the company that sold you the book, they’ll store it in a way that allows them to access it. Why? Because no data is useless.

If you give a government the ability to tax, they’ll tax. If you give a company the ability to gather data, they’ll gather data*. They may not know what they’re going to do with it, but they’ll think of something.

* And, as we’ve seen over and over again, give a government the ability to gather data and they’ll do just that.

I can’t prove it, but I’d be willing to bet that Amazon uses the amount you read of individual titles in making recommendations. “You read all of Worm Farmers on the Wild Frontier, but gave up halfway through Worm Ranching for Fun and Profit? OK, try Worm Riders of the Frozen North instead of 100 Great Worm Recipes.”

Of course, it’s not the only factor they consider. I’m sure that if they could make a larger profit on the cookbook than the adventure story, they’d push the cookbook. But I digress.

There are other reasons why they’d look at your reading progress. Assuming Amazon is an ethical company (a position I’m unwilling to debate at this time), they might factor your reading progress into the decision whether to put the “Verified Purchase” tag on your review. (Side note: There might need to be some heuristics involved: a one-star review based on the first five pages arguably could be more likely to be legitimate than a five-star review.)

If the notion of Amazon looking over your shoulder bothers you, can you do anything about it? There is the option of moving your reading to an independent reader. As long as you’ve bought the e-book, very few authors will object–though Amazon certainly will!

If it’s a rental or subscription deal, though, the ethics are rather murkier. As FirecatStef pointed out, moving your KU books to a non-Kindle reader will mean the author doesn’t get paid. Maybe you can fool Amazon into thinking you’ve read the whole book by scrolling to the end before you export it. Might work, might not, depending on how smart Amazon’s page counting code is. But if it does work, you run the risk of cheating yourself.

The next couple of paragraphs will make my fellow authors scream.

As an aspiring author, I want you to buy my books. Whether you enjoy the book or not, I’ll enjoy your money. But as a reader, I see one major benefit of subscription services. Traditionally, if I hated a book–truly hate, in the “fling the book across the room” sense–my only recourse is to never buy another book by the same author. But the royalty for the horrible crap I was suckered into buying is already in the author’s bank account*. With a subscription service, I can try something new, secure in the knowledge that if I dislike the book enough that I don’t finish, the author won’t get paid–or at least won’t get a full royalty.

* OK, given my reading speed, it’s likely still only in the vendor’s account, but it will get to the author eventually.

My few cents may not make a difference, but I can hope that if enough people have the same reaction, the writers will either buckle down to improve their skills or give up and find a more lucrative profession. Either way, the average book’s quality will go up.

Sure, it’s a pipe dream, but if we don’t dream, what’s the point of living?

One final thought: No, doing my experimental reading at the library doesn’t give the same benefit as a subscription service. Remember that (a) libraries buy their books and the authors receive royalties, (b) libraries use circulation figures in making later purchases, and (c) libraries don’t track reading progress. If three hundred people check out 500 Uses for a Dead Worm Farmer, even if none of them finish it, the library is going to buy the author’s next book.

2 thoughts on “More Numbers

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