From The New York Times:
Andrew Rhomberg wants to be the Billy Beane of the book world.
Mr. Beane used analytics to transform baseball, famously recounted in “Moneyball,” a book by Michael Lewis.
Now Mr. Rhomberg wants to use data about people’s reading habits to radically reshape how publishers acquire, edit and market books.
“We still know almost nothing about readers, especially in trade publishing,” said Mr. Rhomberg, the founder of Jellybooks, a reader analytics company based in London.
While ebooks retailers like Amazon, Apple and Barnes & Noble can collect troves of data on their customers’ reading behavior, publishers and writers are still in the dark about what actually happens when readers pick up a book. Do most people devour it in a single sitting, or do half of readers give up after Chapter 2? Are women over 50 more likely to finish the book than young men? Which passages do they highlight, and which do they skip?
. . . .
Here is how it works: the company gives free ebooks to a group of readers, often before publication. Rather than asking readers to write a review, it tells them to click on a link embedded in the ebook that will upload all the information that the device has recorded. The information shows Jellybooks when people read and for how long, how far they get in a book and how quickly they read, among other details. It resembles how Amazon and Apple, by looking at data stored in ereading devices and apps, can see how often books are opened and how far into a book readers get.
. . . .
On average, fewer than half of the books tested were finished by a majority of readers. Most readers typically give up on a book in the early chapters. Women tend to quit after 50 to 100 pages, men after 30 to 50. Only 5 percent of the books Jellybooks tested were completed by more than 75 percent of readers. Sixty percent of books fell into a range where 25 percent to
50 percent of test readers finished them. Business books have surprisingly low completion rates.
. . . .
Authors are understandably nervous about how new insights into reading behavior might shape publishers’ editorial decisions. Suppose you are writing a crime series, and readers gave up halfway through the latest installment. Publishers might not want to buy the next one. Or what if readers skip around in your nonfiction book, a common way to read nonfiction? An editor might want to cut the chapters people are skipping, potentially erasing useful context. And, of course, people who sign up for a free ebook service might not represent the kinds of readers who would seek and pay for a crime novel, or a nonfiction book on a subject that interests them. The sample sizes are relatively small. So the reader data might not represent the reactions of a general audience.
Link to the rest at The New York Times and thanks to Lexi for the tip.
PG isn’t surprised that business books have surprisingly low completion rates. Once you get past the one or two interesting ideas, the rest often feels like filler.