Books Reading Readers: Implications

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Until very recently in human history, reading a book was a one-way experience.

With the advent of eBooks though, it is fast becoming a two-way street.

Every time someone reads an eBook (sales of which are increasing substantially, both in absolute and relative terms), the reader is being read also. According to a very interesting article in the Journallast month,

In the past, publishers and authors had no way of knowing what happens when a reader sits down with a book. Does the reader quit after three pages, or finish it in a single sitting? Do most readers skip over the introduction, or read it closely, underlining passages and scrawling notes in the margins? Now, e-books are providing a glimpse into the story behind the sales figures, revealing not only how many people buy particular books, but how intensely they read them.

As the article observes, this has some very interesting implications for publishing companies and authors, who, based on demographics and reading habits, can tailor the content of their books to increase the books’ appeal to readers and hold their attention longer.

In terms of fiction, unless someone is just a content mill I don’t think it matters too much. Writers (and publishers) of fiction may also not like the idea too much:

…”The thing about a book is that it can be eccentric, it can be the length it needs to be, and that is something the reader shouldn’t have anything to do with,” says Jonathan Galassi, president and publisher of Farrar, Straus & Giroux. “We’re not going to shorten ‘War and Peace’ because someone didn’t finish it.”

For non-fiction books where readers flock to books to learn about something, this could be highly useful. The full article explores various implications of the availability of this data from different perspectives and is worth a read.

But one thing that the article doesn’t discuss in detail are the implications for magazine publishers.

I think that magazine publishers who provide digital versions of their weeklies or monthlies (which is pretty much everyone these days) are sitting on a goldmine.

With a print magazine, no one knows how engaged readers are. Consequently, rates for advertisements in magazines are set based on some demographic data and the total number of subscriptions and single-copy sales.

Now though, with digital magazines, we can move into “dynamic” pricing for advertisements.

So if 100,000 subscribers were reading Businessweek on their iPads or other tablets, then I can easily determine which articles are skipped and which ones appeal most to readers. So just with TV shows and Nielsen ratings there, as a publisher, I could set rates for displaying ads on different pages based on how engaged readers are with those pages. As a company advertising on Businessweek, I have to love this too. Finally, I now have a way to show the right audience at the right time the right advertisement (and willingly pay a premium for it if it has the impact I think it will).

Extending the idea further, as an article in a digital magazine starts to become more popular, the publisher can increase the advertising rates just like on TV. On the other hand, ads on unpopular articles can go down in price dynamically too.

Since we are at the beginning of the digital publishing (and consumption) revolution, as long as obvious and justifiable privacy concerns can be addressed, it will be interesting to see what publishers and advertisers do here.

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