Disruptive Innovation

Rise of the sportswriting machines

6 July 2015

From The Washington Post:

There’s a sports writing revolution going on out there and it doesn’t involve sportswriters – thanks to “automation technology,” sports articles are now being written by, uh, computers.

Two companies – Durham, N.C.-based Automated Insights and Chicago-based Narrative Science – are aiming to make sportswriters the next dinosaurs. These companies transfer data into written reports, rendering obsolete the ink-stained wretch sitting in a press box eating free hot dogs.

First there was the driverless car. Now there is the writer-less sports story.

This nation was BUILT on the backs of sportswriters, and THIS is the thanks we get?

. . . .

Can an algorithm really replace a beat writer? I guess so – never misses a deadline, less chance of libel, no bloated expense reports.

According to its Web site, Automated Insights’ “Wordsmith platform uses artificial intelligence to transform raw data into actionable stories and insights [and] creates content with the tone, personality and variability of a human writer.”

. . . .

The Associated Press is using Automated Insights technology to cover more college sports than ever, events it wouldn’t have the manpower to staff. It’s already providing Division I baseball recaps via computer-generated game stories and will expand exponentially, including Division II men’s basketball.

Link to the rest at The Washington Post and thanks to  for the tip.

PG is a big fan of technologies of all types, but he doubts any sports writing computer program will generate anything like the following in the near future:

“Outlined against a blue, gray October sky the Four Horsemen rode again.

“In dramatic lore they are known as famine, pestilence, destruction and death. These are only aliases. Their real names are: Stuhldreher, Miller, Crowley and Layden. They formed the crest of the South Bend cyclone before which another fighting Army team was swept over the precipice at the Polo Grounds this afternoon as 55,000 spectators peered down upon the bewildering panorama spread out upon the green plain below.”

Grantland Rice writing in New York Herald-Tribune about Notre Dame’s 13-7 victory over Army, October 18, 1924

Tipping the Editorial Apple Cart

29 June 2015

From Digital Book World:

Software is at once the existential threat and the messianic savior of the publishing industry. Publishers that pursue transformation strategies and successfully reinvent themselves as software companies will thrive, propelled by the value of their content assets and skills.

This is no simple feat, however. Coupled with the backdrop of financial, technical and market challenges, one overarching challenge makes any publisher’s transformation especially daunting—corporate culture.

Corporate culture shows up across any organization in a million small ways. It’s the set of reflexive behaviors, like default settings, that companies develop over time. It influences everything from how the company hires and how it interacts with customers to the way it develops its products. Corporate culture is the result of countless subtle inputs over time, and as many CEOs have discovered, it’s profoundly difficult to change.

But culture is precisely what must change in today’s publishing industry. From stem to stern, the most successful publishers are rethinking risk tolerance, speed of development, the opinion of the customer and even the structure of their companies. Although culture isn’t good or bad, it can certainly be right or wrong for what a company is trying to accomplish.

. . . .

A few decades back, in the heyday of desktop publishing, publishers were centers of intense innovation, leveraging new software to move from analog layout mechanisms to digital ones. Experimentation with tools like Aldus PageMaker and Quark Xpress led to entirely new workflows. Initial investments, while expensive, yielded exciting results in both the products and the financial efficiencies of the publishing process.

Over the ensuing years, publishers adeptly outsourced the non-strategic parts of their digital workflows. More and more work was done offshore and less of it in-house, and the institutional knowledge of these methods largely dissipated. Business process outsourcing (BPO) companies now own many of those core processes, with publishers providing inputs and receiving outputs, such as illustrations and page layouts.

It’s within that environment that publishers today confront the completely new problem of constructing digital content and products, and they haven’t yet figured out how to do it at large scale. Meanwhile, these same BPO companies are asked to ‘solve’ the digital content problem. They try, but these companies are skilled in process optimization, not in initial problem solving, especially when the end product isn’t yet fully understood by anyone.

When publishers reflexively outsource these supposedly non-strategic processes, the outsourced work is either frustratingly poor in quality or impossible to scale up. Instead, publishers themselves must first invest in the problem-solving, just as in they did in the ’90s with desktop publishing. Only then can the optimization of outsourcing begin.

. . . .

I’ve often marveled at the power editorial teams wield within publishers. They’ve traditionally controlled budgets, product roadmaps and sales teams, all in one. Talk about influence! But this cultural hallmark is unattractive to engineers and designers, who expect to be at the center of the discovery and decision-making processes of a software company. It’s the age-old MBA-meets-engineer cliché on the grandest of scales: “I’ve got a great idea, all I need is an engineer to build it for me!” Alas, the engineer, if she’s smart, has her own ideas.

The publishers that successfully shift their internal cultures to be technology-driven, rather than editorial-driven, will more quickly adopt methods and practices that favor the transition from publishing to software. These companies will, in turn, attract better talent. And the virtuous cycle will accelerate.

Link to the rest at Digital Book World

The author of this piece doesn’t use the term, but he is talking about disruptive change in the publishing world.

One of the common responses to disruptive challenges is “Let’s disrupt ourselves!” and change the disruptee into the disruptor. Perhaps the disrupt yourself strategy has worked somewhere, but PG can’t think of an example.

One of the reasons that startups are the most common creators and exploiters of disruptive technology is that a startup has no preexisting corporate culture to slow it down (or defeat it altogether). Disruptive technology doesn’t just disrupt companies, it also disrupts the management within companies. Many of the old kings and queens will lose out under the vastly different new business structure and they invariably manage to submerge the innovative new ideas beneath established corporate fiefdoms and processes.

PG suggests that tradpub corporate culture is the ultimate reason it will find survival in anything resembling its current form almost impossible in an ebook/ecommerce world.

He’s mentioned it before, but since most big US publishers don’t own themselves, but are owned by large international media conglomerates, PG says the corporate culture challenge is even more daunting. You not only have to change the culture of the publisher, you also have to change the culture of the conglomerate managers who are at least one step removed from understanding the disruptive business challenge and the need for change.

A tech startup is expected to lose money, often for a long time. Figuring out how to disrupt an existing business is very difficult work. Mistakes will definitely happen and U-turns will probably be necessary.

Conglomerate bosses become very nervous about any plan that expects to lose money and can’t demonstrate a clear path to a profit. Mistakes and U-turns are anathema.

Where Uber and Amazon rule: welcome to the world of the platform

9 June 2015

From The Guardian:

Hardly a day goes by without some tech company proclaiming that it wants to reinvent itself as a platform. Back in March, when South Korea banned Uber, the company promised to let local taxi drivers use its platform – along with its matching services.

Facebook pulled a similar trick in early May: having run into trouble with its pseudo-humanitarian effort to provide free internet access via a project called internet.org, it, too, promised to turn it into a platform. Now, internet.org users, most of them in the developing world, could also enjoy free access to apps other than those developed by Facebook.

Some prominent critics even speak of “platform capitalism” – a broader transformation of how goods and services are produced, shared and delivered. Instead of the tired conventional model, with individual firms competing for customers, we are witnessing the emergence of a new, seemingly flatter and more participatory model, whereby customers engage directly with each other. With a smartphone in their pocket, individuals can suddenly do things that previously required an array of institutions.

Such is the transformation we are witnessing across many sectors of the economy: taxi companies used to transport passengers, but Uber just connects drivers with passengers. Hotels used to offer hospitality services; Airbnb just connects hosts with guests. And this list goes on: even Amazon connects booksellers with buyers of used books.

. . . .

[I]nstead of adhering to a precise and rigorous code that spells out the rights of customers and the obligations of service providers – the cornerstone of the modern regulatory state – platform operators rely on the widely distributed knowledge of participants in a service, hoping that the market will eventually punish those who misbehave.

In the free-market utopia of thinkers such as Friedrich Hayek – the true patron saint of the sharing economy – your reputation would also reflect what other market participants know about you. Thus, if you are a nasty customer or an ill-mannered driver, everybody else will soon discover this, and specific laws to police your behaviour are rendered unnecessary.

. . . .

In reality, though, such a perfectly liquid and dynamic reputation marketplace is nowhere to be seen. A recent lawsuit in the US highlights its absence. Uber drivers have been accused of discriminating against disabled people by refusing to put their wheelchairs in the boot of their car. One would think that anti-discrimination laws that apply to taxis would also apply to Uber. Uber says it has anti-discrimination policies – and that it’s not a taxi company, it’s a technology company, a platform. Here, there is clearly no easy feedback mechanism to assist disabled travellers: this is what consumer protection laws are for.

. . . .

What is it that Uber’s platform offers that traditional cabs can’t get elsewhere? It’s mostly three things: payment infrastructure to make transactions smoother; identity infrastructure to screen out any unwanted passengers; and sensor infrastructure, present on our smartphones, which traces the location of the car and the customer in real time. This list has hardly anything to do with transport; they are the kind of peripheral activity that traditional taxi companies have always ignored.

However, with the transition to knowledge-based economy, these peripherals are no longer really peripherals – they are at the very centre of service provision. Today, any service provider, and even content provider, risks becoming hostage to the platform operator, which, by aggregating all those peripherals and streamlining the experience of using them, suddenly moves from the periphery to the centre.

. . . .

Few industries could remain unaffected by the platform fever. The unspoken truth, though, is that most of the current big-name platforms are monopolies, riding on the network effects of operating a service that becomes more valuable as more people join it. This is why they can muster so much power; Amazon is in constant power struggles with publishers – but there is no second Amazon they can turn to.

. . . .

This, however, still doesn’t address the question of just how much power we should surrender to these companies. A publishing industry ruled by Amazon and Facebook might produce lots of innovations – but is there any guarantee that it would actually produce any significant articles or books?

. . . .

Most platforms are parasitic: feeding off existing social and economic relations. They don’t produce anything on their own – they only rearrange bits and pieces developed by someone else. Given the enormous – and mostly untaxed – profits made by such corporations, the world of “platform capitalism”, for all its heady rhetoric, is not so different from its predecessor. The only thing that’s changed is who pockets the money.

Link to the rest at The Guardian and thanks to Dave for the tip.

Now is a good time for a reminder that PG doesn’t always agree with items that he posts.

PG will point out that nobody is forced to give their money to Amazon or Uber or Airbnb. People voluntarily choose to give their money to these organizations because Amazon, Uber and Airbnb provide something that’s better than the alternatives available.

How fast does your e-book grow?

5 May 2015

From Futurebook:

The prevailing mythology around tech is that the giant internet companies will dominate globally, just as they do nationally. They are borderless and all powerful. Facebook has 1.44 billion monthly active users, YouTube 1 billion unique users. So what happened with e-books? Five years ago pundits were talking about how Amazon, Apple, Google and Kobo would roll out globally to meet the worldwide demand for e-books: an eco-system built largely in America for a global audience. But something got lost in translation. Like the print-book market, the global e-book market has become complex—pulled in different directions by local nuances.

The Global E-book Report 2015, compiled by Ruediger Wischenbart, shows just how different each market can be and how this should alter how we think about this transformation. While both the US and UK have seen robust e-book growth for a numbers of years, leading to digital as a proportion of overall trade sales at about 30%; in mature book markets in non-English speaking countries the rate of progress has been much slower, and in some cases non-existent. As the report notes, in these non-English speaking countries (including Germany, France, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, and Sweden), the market share of e-books within the trade segment of the book market is below 10%, ranging from as little as 1 or 2%, to 4.3% in Germany. More alarmingly, even at such low levels of penetration, the report adds that growth is showing signs of flattening out.

However, the non-arrival of a robust digital segment is a double-edged sword. First, without the fillip of digital growth, these markets have not been as sheltered from the global recesssion as other sectors. As the report, suggests in much of continental Europe, for the last several years, book markets have seen sales decline. Some countries, with relatively robust overall economies, like Germany or France, saw a modest, yet nevertheless steady decline in book sales. In others, like Spain, or Italy (or Greece, where no reliable data are available), the crisis impacted on the book trade with full force. In Sweden, the report also notes, that a mix of highly specific local factors brought about the sharpest decline in decades.

. . . .

Publishers have largely been spared, but the report found that all across Europe the pressure to consolidate has mounted significantly in recent years, resulting in a widening list of mergers and acquisitions among trade publishers. The report suggests that the impact of digital can hit even before it makes a material difference to sales, particularly with the arrival of those global companies such as Amazon, or Apple, prompting a period of re-adjustment by the incumbent players.

The report also found that though digital penetration across trade books may be still small in these non-English speaking markets, but there were pockets of excitement. The report states, that “anecdotal evidence has it that in the e-book top segments, like blockbuster fiction or romance, e-books can account for 30 to 40% of sales, or even more – and so in some specific cases even in countries with a particularly low presence of ebooks, such as France.”

Link to the rest at Futurebook

It is common for those in an industry being disrupted by a more efficient and lower-cost technology to look for signs that the changes will not be as complete or destructive as feared. After all, the classic disruption pattern is for the new entrants to start by selling to underserved and less-profitable customers of the legacy industry. Government intervention in the form of price-fixing or taxes can impact the way the disruption occurs.

However, PG says it is inherently so much more efficient to create, copy, distribute and sell ebooks than it is to deal with cases of dead trees that bits will beat atoms in the book world just as they have everywhere else. How much growth is there in the print circulation of newspapers these days?

PG has read newspapers for approximately forever and two physical newspapers still land on the driveway at Casa PG every morning. However, it’s more of a habit PG has developed than anything else and those papers are read less and less frequently with each passing month. Someday in the not-too-distant future, PG will stop paying for dead trees on the driveway.

The important ebook enabling technologies for most of the world will be internet access and smartphones. Not a lot of people will purchase smartphones to read ebooks, but, once they have smartphones, ebook purchasing or borrowing or pirating is a low-cost or free additional value the smartphone delivers.

PG hasn’t seen any indication that smartphone sales are slowing down.

 

Publishing’s Digital Disruption Hasn’t Even Started

24 April 2015

From Digital Book World blogs:

Imperceptible, invisible almost, but it was there at the London Book Fair this year—publishers quietly clapping each other on the back and breathing a collective sigh of relief: Phew, thank goodness that ebook thing is over. Now let’s get back to real publishing.

I’m being a little facetious, of course. But this year’s trade show did see a genuine departure from the maelstrom of anxiety and excitement over the rapidly developing digital market that has dominated the last few fairs.

Most publishers seem to believe the worst is now over, that the industry has survived an inconvenient tsunami warning that turned out to be nothing but an unseasonably high tide.

But is the industry blind to the coming tempest? I certainly believe so.

The music industry thought that disruption was over by 2011 when their sales began to recover somewhat. Despite digital units accounting for 64% of music sales, the consensus was that the market had stabilized and was back to business as usual. Then in 2011 a Swedish start-up called Spotify launched in the U.S. After only four years in the mainstream, it now has over 15 million subscribers  and 60 million active users. The Spotify business model has truly disrupted the music industry, with artists now looking at nontraditional ways of generating sales other than records as their staple income.

Any parallels for authors and books here?

That’s admittedly a question publishers are as tired of asking as trying to answer. But the important thing to note is that while a change in format initially affected business models, the streaming element brought about disruption in the music industry that has stubbornly staid put.

Likewise, for anyone to think that the digital disruption book publishing has experienced in the last few years is over or receding would be foolish in the extreme. In almost every other industry that has experienced disruption in recent times it has followed a very distinct pattern.

. . . .

Phase 3: Appealing Convergence is when the disruptive and incumbent parties come to work together, as according to Sinofsky, “even when technologies are disrupted, the older technologies evolved for a reason, and those reasons are often still valid.” The market begins to stabilize. There is widespread acceptance of the new technology and early adopters mature, allowing the industry to settle in with a harmonious blend of, in our case, print and digital.

This is where I believe publishing sits today in 2015.

For further evidence, look no further than the reported plateauing of ebook sales, the resurgence of print titles in 2014, and the talk of ebooks going “out of fashion.”  Some more reasoned commentators have highlighted that print vs. digital is also not a battle to the death.

The danger here is that complacency sets in, and publishers revert to print cycle–thinking and fail to plan for the future.

Phase 4: Complete Re-imagination is in Sinofsky’s view the “last stage of technology disruption…when a category or technology is re-imagined from the ground up.”

Think of how other industries are being disrupted. Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles. Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory. And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate.

As Sinofsky writes, “Re-imagining a technology or product is a return to first principles. It is about looking at the underlying assumptions and essentially rethinking all of them at once.”

Link to the rest at Digital Book World blogs

From a Dinosaur Publishing in a Digital World

9 March 2015

From author Chris Goff via Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers:

Okay, I admit it, I got into this game long enough ago that my first words were scribbled on white tablets, with mistakes scratched out and arrows drawn to indicate where whole passages needed to be moved. Later, I typed stories on a manual typewriter, keeping copious amounts of Wite-Out on hand. Later, because an IBM Selectric typewriter was too expensive, I bought a Brother’s typewriter that could actually “delete” up to 300 characters using Wite-Out tape. Then, in 1987, when my mother died, I inherited her IBM PC. One of the first, it had 256K of RAM and a 1.2 MGB floppy disk drive.

Jump forward 30 years and I’m typing this at 33K feet in the air on a Surface Pro 2, on a Southwest flight to Seattle, while hooked up to the internet. I could be watching a movie, but instead I’m blogging—and extolling and lamenting the direction publishing has taken with the advancement of technology.

Don’t get me wrong. I love technology.

. . . .

But, while the benefits of technological advances are obvious, they come at a cost. Digital publishing has changed the face of the industry.

When I locked down my first publishing contract, a writer’s only options were through a traditional publishing house or a vanity press (the dinosaurs’ equivalent of self-publishing on the internet). And, just like today, there were some self-published who made it big. The difference—back then, if you didn’t hit, you ended up with a basement full of boxed books you couldn’t sell instead of being 2,996,254 out of three million on the Amazon list.

Today, the list of large traditional publishers has decreased to five. And while the number of small publishers has increased somewhat, the number of people digitally self-publishing has skyrocketed. The tendency of many of these authors is to put their books for sale online for $.99. No doubt many of these are quality books—well written, well edited, and well received. However, a large number of these books are not worth the pennies paid.

For that, the industry has suffered. Advances from traditional and small publishers have not increased. In fact, advances have for the most part have decreased, along with the value placed on writers.

Why? In my estimation, it’s due in large part to the sheer volume of material for sale out there; due in large part to the sheer number of “writers” whose primary interest is not to make a living writing, but simply a desire to see their work “published.”

Link to the rest at Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and thanks to Margaret for the tip.

Here’s a link to Chris Goff’s book, Dark Waters

One big way that book publishing startups can succeed now

9 March 2015

From GigaOm:

It’s been more than seven years since the introduction of the first Kindle. Ebooks market share seems to be stabilizing at around one third of total books sold in the U.S. according to the latest reports. But ebooks are just the beginning–the detonator, in a way, of a decade-long disruption of the traditional publishing landscape.

Publishers and agents have certainly “adapted,” but have largely failed to carry innovation forward; distribution channels have been disrupted, but the creative process around books and the business model of publishing remain, for now, unchanged.

As it often happens when technology erupts in a non-tech-heavy industry, numerous opportunities have emerged for smaller players: namely authors, freelancers, and startups. To take advantage of the changing industry landscape, however, those small players will have to grasp the delicate mix of strong technology and intuitive user experience (UX) needed to succeed in a tech-unsavvy industry.

. . . .

 At the Frankfurt Book Fair last October, startup founder John Pettigrew from Futureproofs noted that “Until now, publishing companies, as any other big corporations, have been adopting several softwares that came with ‘how-to’ manuals.” Pettigrew was identifying the lack of technological innovation in the publishing industry, which continues to rely on the same old technology despite readers’ and authors’ changing needs.

Case in point? HarperCollins, considered the most forward-thinking publisher out there, has introduced Bookperk — its latest digital product that just happens to be a glorified email listserv. Distributors like Amazon, Kobo or B&N have been offering customers specials and customized recommendations via email for years. But publishers have have been held back by the limitations of outdated technology, along with an understandable reluctance toward investing heavily in digital (after all, most of their revenue still comes from print books and bookstores).

. . . .

Editorially was trying to solve an obvious problem: the vast majority of authors are still writing on Microsoft Word, software that’s not made for writing books and stories, and generates formatting issues when converting to EPUB and MOBI files.

Editorially created a beautiful collaborative writing tool and editing platform, and received VC funding most startups only dream of. But it went under because it “failed to attract enough users to be sustainable.” The technology behind Editorially was great, but for authors to embrace a new editing tool, it needs to look and feel like what they’ve been using for decades — only simpler and more effective. That’s what good UX means in the publishing world.

Link to the rest at GigaOm

New publishing trends reshaping reading

30 January 2015

From The Chicago Tribune:

In November, a pair of technology journalists issued the latest in what seems to be a constant stream of announcements proclaiming the start of a book publishing revolution. First, co-authors Jason Hiner and Lyndsey Gilpin said they would crowdfund their project, asking individuals to donate toward a $10,000 goal in exchange for free tote bags, book copies and, for $500, a chance to chat with the authors by phone.

. . . .

“Books have barely been touched by the digital revolution,” Hiner says in a video on the authors’ Indiegogo crowdfunding site. The publishing industry moves slowly. The technology world Gilpin and Hiner are writing about moves quickly. In the gap, anything a book says can be canceled by simple forward momentum while the author waits for the presses to roll.

Compared to what has happened in the music and newspaper industries, digital technologies are fueling more evolution than revolution in book publishing. But change is well under way, starting with the dizzying rise in self-publishing, the rapid growth of all-you-can-read book subscription services, a surge in crowdfunded publishing, and the growth of the e-book.

Mark Coker’s company, Smashwords, owes its existence to e-publishing. Coker launched it after a novel about the soap opera business he co-authored with his wife, Lesleyann Coker, left publishers cold.

“The more I thought about it, the more frustrated I got,” Coker says. Publishers told his agent that “Boob Tube” was a dud because soap-opera-based books always flopped. That’s what the record showed. But Coker wondered how much publishers really knew. “The vast majority of their books fail,” he says. “The dirty secret of the publishing industry is, at the end of the day, they’re really just throwing spaghetti against the wall.”

Link to the rest at The Chicago Tribune

The Death of Music Sales

27 January 2015

From The Atlantic:

CDs are dead.

That doesn’t seem like such a controversial statement. Maybe it should be. The music business sold 141 million CDs in the U.S. last year. That’s more than the combined number of tickets sold to the most popular movies in 2014 (Guardians) and 2013 (Iron Man 3). So “dead,” in this familiar construction, isn’t the same as zero. It’s more like a commonly accepted short-cut for a formerly popular thing is now withering at a commercially meaningful rate.

And if CDs are truly dead, then digital music sales are lying in the adjacent grave. Both categories are down double-digits in the last year, with iTunes sales diving at least 13 percent.

. . . .

The recorded music industry is being eaten, not by one simple digital revolution, but rather by revolutions inside of revolutions, mouths inside of mouths, Alien-style. Digitization and illegal downloads kicked it all off. MP3 players and iTunes liquified the album. That was enough to send recorded music’s profits cascading. But today the disruption is being disrupted: Digital track sales are falling at nearly the same rate as CD sales, as music fans are turning to streaming—on iTunes, SoundCloud, Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, and music blogs. Now that music is superabundant, the business (beyond selling subscriptions to music sites) thrives only where scarcity can be manufactured—in concert halls, where there are only so many seats, or in advertising, where one song or band can anchor a branding campaign.

Nearly every number in Nielsen’s 2014 annual review of the music industry is preceded by a negative sign, including chain store sales (-20%), total new album sales (-14%), and sales of new songs online (-10.3%). Two things are up: streaming music and vinyl album sales.

. . . .

 The top 1 percent of bands and solo artists now earn about 80 percent of all revenue from recorded music . . . . But the market for streamed music is not so concentrated. The ten most-popular songs accounted for just shy of 2 percent of all streams in 2013 and 2014.

Link to the rest at The Atlantic

Publishers Know You Didn’t Finish “The Goldfinch” — Here’s What That Means For The Future Of Books

22 January 2015

From Buzzfeed:

Millions may have held their suspicions, but last month the Canadian e-reader company Kobo confirmed it: Most people who buy The Goldfinch don’t actually finish it. According to the company’s data, less than half of Canadian and British Kobo readers in 2014 made it to the end of Donna Tartt’s behemoth novel, one of the best-selling of the year.

How did Kobo know this? Like every e-reader and reading-app maker today, the company, a subsidiary of the Japanese e-commerce titan Rakuten, has access to a comprehensive suite of data about the reading behavior of its users. In a white paper titled “Publishing in the Era of Big Data” and released this fall, the company announced that “with the onset of digital reading … it is now possible to know how a customer engages with the book itself — what books were left unopened, which were read to the very last word and how quickly.” In other words, if you read books digitally, the people who serve you those books more than likely know just what kind of reader you are, and just how little effort you made with Infinite Jest.

The paper was a rare peek into the nascent world of reader engagement analytics, which have been a staple of web publishing but which the big legacy book publishers have been slow to embrace. It was fascinating, not just for the insights it offered into reading behavior (Did you know the industry standard finish rate for mystery books is 62%? Now you do!) but because the enormous corporations — Amazon and Apple — that know the most about how you read are ferociously silent about that knowledge. Both Apple and Amazon declined to comment for this piece.

. . . .

In a leery New York Review of Books blog post, titled “They’re Watching What You Read,” the novelist Francine Prose wrote, “…writers (and their editors) could soon be facing meetings in which the marketing department informs them that 82 percent of readers lost interest in their memoir on page 272. And if they want to be published in the future, whatever happens on that page should never be repeated.”

. . . .

It’s true that engagement analytics pose a highly abstract threat to a certain idealized kind of furrowed-brow, human-and-their-word-processor, Great Novel writing and reading, as well as to those people whose livelihoods and self-images are invested in that ideal. (“Excuse me, Mr. Joyce, you’re losing a lot of Kindle Fire readers here in this third section. Maybe tighten it up a smidge?”) But it’s also true that most books released by the declining publishing industry are hardlyWar and Peace, that so far these numbers have played almost no role in editing and acquisitions in the publishing industry, that they have far greater implications for marketers than they do for writers and editors, and that the companies making the most significant use of engagement analytics aren’t traditional publishing houses, but startups.

According to Claudia Ballard, a book agent with William Morris Endeavor, there is still only one salient number when it comes to the books that get picked up.

“The truth of the matter is people have been picking up books and not finishing them for a long time,” Ballard told BuzzFeed News. “At the end of the day, a unit sold is still a unit sold.”

Link to the rest at Buzzfeed and thanks to Dave for the tip.

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