Brilliant Idea: Kindle Can Do for Books What Did for Music

Digital reading platforms can collect previously unheralded data about how we read books–and that could change the way we buy them.

Kindle and iPad

Zoinks, this is clever. Paul Lamere, an app developer in the online music industry and a blogger about the same, points out that one often overlooked feature of Amazon’s Kindle might change the way we buy books by gathering some smart metrics.


Lamere specifically points to Whispersync, a feature that keeps track of where you are in a book and syncs that data with any other device–from an iPhone to an iPad to a computer–so that you can pick up where you left off. Here’s the great idea: Armed with that data, it’s only a short stop to some pretty amazing metrics, which we’ve never seen before for books.

Amazon could then do something for books that’s a bit like what has done for music. Here’s five superb ideas out of 17 that Lamere came up with:

Most Abandoned – the books and/or authors that are most frequently left unfinished. What book is the most abandoned book of all time? (My money is on ‘A Brief History of Time’) A related metric – for any particular book where is it most frequently abandoned? (I’ve heard of dozens of people who never got past ‘The Council of Elrond’ chapter in LOTR).

Pageturner – the top books ordered by average number of words read per reading session. Does the average Harry Potter fan read more of the book in one sitting than the average Twilight fan?

Burning the midnight oil – books that keep people up late at night.

Read Speed – which books/authors/genres have the lowest word-per-minute average reading rate? Do readers of Glenn Beck read faster or slower than readers of Jon Stewart?

Most Re-read – which books are read over and over again? A related metric – which are the most re-read passages? Is it when Frodo claims the ring, or when Bella almost gets hit by a car?

You’ve gotta wonder at all the other metrics you could come up with: What, for example, is the most re-read page of a single book? What’s the toughest chapter? For that matter, you could create beautiful visualizations of the book’s actual pace—Does it start fast and end slow (likely meaning a book that gets boring as it goes along)? Or does it pick up around page 45?


Lamere sensibly suggests that these sorts of metrics could change the way we buy books–just as music discovery services such as Lala and have changed the way we find (and maybe buy) new music: “I’d rather not turn to The New York Times Best Seller list to decide what to read. I want to see the Amazon Most Frequently Finished book list instead.”

Also, it makes you realize how woefully short the marketing of books these days comes from the actual experience of reading them. I mean, couldn’t a brilliant book about stem cell science be every bit as engrossing as James Patterson novel? And can’t the wrong novel be every bit as tedious as a textbook? It seems that when we buy a book, we’re often not looking for a specific subject or genre or theme–but a specific type of experience, whether its reading through the night or falling asleep when you read. Book marketers sort of dance around that–but some real metrics could be truly invaluable. Who knows–maybe these sorts of metrics will one day even change the way books are written and edited. Why not a focus group of readers, just like they do with movies?


About the author

Cliff was director of product innovation at Fast Company, founding editor of Co.Design, and former design editor at both Fast Company and Wired.


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