New Startups Focus on Tracking eBook Reading Data


How long does it take for someone to complete a book? When reading a steamy erotica, are you lingering over the sex scenes? Do readers ever finish the books they start, or skip right to the end? New startups are seeking to address these questions with new software and they intend on opening it up to writers, indie authors and publishers.

New startups such as Oyster are selling critical user data to companies about their subscribers, who access a copious amount of titles for a low monthly fee. These eBooks can then be read on a myriad of iOS, Android and mobile devices.

“Self-published writers are going to eat this up,” said Mark Coker, the chief executive of Smashwords, a large independent publisher. “Many seem to value their books more than their kids. They want anything that might help them reach more readers.”

Smashwords recently inked a deal with Harper Collins backed Scribd, to contribute over 250,000 titles to the platform. Before that, they also ironed out a contract with Oyster, to have their titles on that platform too. The intention is for Smashwords to get plenty of data about their title, that they would not normally be able to capture themselves.

Analysing reading data is playing a crucial role in the evolutionary growth in Amazon and Barnes and Noble. For years, those two companies have been guarding their data and not relaying it to their publishing friends. This data is exploited to promote books that are fashionable in any given day and the ones people tend to read, cover to cover.

Scribd has only been offering their eBook subscription platform in October and already they are massing a treasure trove of data. The longer a mystery novel is, the more likely readers are to jump to the end to see who done it. People are more likely to finish biographies than business titles, but a chapter of a yoga book is all they need. They speed through romances faster than religious titles, and erotica fastest of all. “We’re going to be pretty open about sharing this data so people can use it to publish better books,” said Trip Adler, Scribd’s chief executive.

Meanwhile, Oyster’s data shows that readers are 25% more likely to finish books that are broken up into shorter chapters. That is an inevitable consequence of people reading in short sessions during the day on an iPhone.

So how does Scribd and Oyster sell their data to companies? The companies declined to outline their business model, but publishers said Scribd and Oyster offered slightly different deals. On Oyster, once a person reads more than 10% of the book, it is officially considered “read.” Oyster then has to pay the publisher a standard wholesale fee. With Scribd, it is more complicated. If the reader reads more than 10% but less than 50%, it counts for a tenth of a sale. Above 50%, it is a full sale.

Will authors ever be able to get access to this data? Likely, if they are signed to a major publisher, they already have agreements to get it from the ebook subscription companies? How about Smashwords? They likely will provide authors who publish on their platform how things are doing, once the data pours in and they develop software to monitor it. When it comes to big overview statistical data on specific genres, to assist authors on what is being read the most, and maybe advise them on what to write? Well, this is sorely lacking at this point.

Michael Kozlowski (5214 Posts)

Michael Kozlowski is the Editor in Chief of Good e-Reader. He has been writing about electronic readers and technology for the last four years. His articles have been picked up by major and local news sources and websites such as the Huffington Post, CNET and more. Michael frequently travels to international events such as IFA, Computex, CES, Book Expo and a myriad of others. If you have any questions about any of his articles, please send an email to

  • antiplex

    what a nightmare! i certaily would not want to have my activities even more closely monitored as they already are.
    one of the more important things i like about reading is the experience of seeing something through somebody else’s (the authors/main characters) eyes bundled with individual wiriting/narrating styles.
    measuring and profiling reading behaviour in order to extract whats producing the highest turnover makes me worried that the literature-landscape will get even more mainstream.
    therefore i would not accept a software or device which would not allow me to turn of such feature and i sincerely hope that other individuals with a strong demand for both privacy and cultural variety would act accordingly…