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.

Fifty… five?

Remember back on 1 July, I promised to share the “50 Followers” badge when I got it?

Remember 5 July when I said I had 49 followers?

Guess what?


Yup. I just got the badge for accumulating 55 followers.

Wait, what?

See, it’s like this. In reality, I have 55 followers.


That’s a nice number I can advertise (I’m sure any prospective employers will be thrilled to see such a high number…)

But it’s not the number WordPress uses when awarding badges. Those are based on the number of followers: people who have accounts (and therefore blogs, even if they never use them) at


That goes back to our discussion of why WordPress gives badges (for those of you who missed it, it’s all about the advertising).

So on 5 July, in WordPress’ opinion I had 44 real followers.

My apologies to the five of you who fall into the category of “second class citizens”. I just want you to know that I value you just as much as the other fifty folks keeping an eye on my ramblings here.

Thank you all for sticking with me. It took almost exactly four months to get to this point. Let’s see if we can get to the next official milestone (100 followers) in three months. Spread the word!

In conclusion, let me leave you with these immortal words from “UFO”:

Oops, sorry. Wrong movie. …these immortal words from “Blazing Saddles“:

Umm. …”Treasure of the Sierra Madre“:

Oh, bother. Never mind. Tune in later today for a new post. If Google cooperates, it’ll be on whatever it is they have up their collective sleeve.

You Like Me…

A few days ago, I won an award.

What did I get? This blog drew its 100th “Like”.

“Yes,” I hear you ask. “But what was the award?”

That is the award. Well, to be pedantic, the award is a notification from WordPress informing me that “You’ve gotten 100 likes”.

According to WordPress, they award “badges” for significant milestones in followers and likes, because “it’s important to stop, catch your breath, and look at your accomplishments”. They also send notifications when I beat a previous daily record for likes (29 March) and follows (5 April).

OK, that makes sense. Sort of. It’s nice to get a pat on the back for doing something, but I didn’t really do this – it’s you folks reading the blog who grant the likes and become the followers. By that logic, you should be getting the badges, or at least being notified of them. But these badges are only visible to the blogger. I can tell you about them, but that’s it. (Yes, I know I could take a screenshot and post it, but that’s kind of half-assed.)

And yes, I know that if I wasn’t blogging, there wouldn’t be anything for y’all to like and follow. The point here is that I’m being rewarded for your actions. If it was about my accomplishments, the badges should be for significant numbers of posts, or new records in number of posts in a day.

So what is the point of these badges, especially given that the information is available in the site stats? Cynically, I suspect it’s to keep new bloggers around long enough for WordPress to break even on them. The award levels are heavily biased to beginners (5, 10, 20, and 50), and then get very scarce (100, 500, and 1000). Pat the new kids on the head, keep them engaged long enough to seed ads on their pages (or up-sell them to the “no ads” package), and make enough money to cover the cost of their bandwidth and support needs. If they give up after the 50 award, WordPress is good; if they keep going, they’ve got the habit and don’t need further encouragement.

Oh, wait. According to a staff comment on the page linked above, “there’s a little secret if you get over a thousand”. Stick around and push that “Like” count up, won’t you? I want to see if the secret is that I get a pony!

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