The Amazon Kindle, Barnes and Noble Nook and Kobo have become strong brand names and have been ubiquitous with the very concept of e-reading. The vast majority of people are engaging in reading digital books are often turning to these three devices in North America and Western Europe. Amazon currently controls 75% of all eBook sales in these markets and the worldwide industry totals $14.5 billion. Many people are blissfully unaware that there are dark forces surrounding your commercial e-reader.
The three major companies involved in the e-reader sector all sell eBooks that tell them everything about you and your reading habits. They can tell how long it took you to complete a book and what time of day you are more likely to read. They can monitor your reading progression to see if you gave up on a book a few chapters in or never even opened it up to begin with. These companies have a heavy investment in your personal life in order to email you other product offerings or use your data as a bargaining chip in establishing relationships with international bookstores and distributors.
Kobo recently released a new reading report in Canada, UK and Australia. It had some interesting facts, such as Aussies are captivated by mystery novels and they have 63.5% completion rate, meaning the percentage of books that are read from cover-to-cover, compared to Sci-Fi at 56.5%, while Non-Fiction entered at 37.8%.
The Goldfinch may have won Donna Tartt the Pulitzer, praised by judges as a novel which “stimulates the mind and touches the heart”, but the acclaimed title’s 800-odd pages appear to have intimidated British readers, with less than half of those who downloaded it from e-bookseller Kobo making it to the end. The Goldfinch was the 37th bestselling e-Book title of the year but it was only completed by 44.4% of British readers. Kobo speculated that it “likely proved daunting for some due to the length of the novel”.
Meanwhile in Canada, many people would assume Sunday would seem the most popular day of the week to finish a book, it’s interesting to note that in 2014, 70% of books were actually completed during the week – Monday to Friday. Canadians were likely savoring the last few pages on their commute to and from work.
Amazon likely has the largest empire when it comes to monitoring your reading habits. They own Shelfari, which is a social media site, focused on eBooks and statistics. The company bought the largest book discovery site GoodReads and now own a huge percentage of the digital comic industry with the purchase of Comixology. Rarely does Amazon provide public data to the end users, but they use this internally to market to you better and actively give your personal information away to the authorities in China.
Commercial e-readers track every single thing you do on the device, in regards to reading books. This has allowed smaller companies to flourish, even if they aren’t capitalizing on the lucrative digital book market. Icarus, Onyx, and Pocketbook are likely the largest players in the international scene that markets their readers all over the world. The big benefit about dealing with these companies is that they have no ulterior motives to capture your personal information, beyond the hardware sale. If you download free books from the internet or strip the DRM from commercial books, you are basically not able to get tracked by the dominant players in the industry.
Commercial e-Reader companies are not the only ones to blame for your private reading information falling into the wrong hands, sold to other companies or used as leverage in business dealings.. Adobe recently made headlines when it was discovered they were sending your device ID, full name and everything about the book you bought over the internet in plain text. This opened up the doors for people to develop hacks that could literary take over your Kindle.
Does the average reader care if all of their reading habits are being monitored? It is justified to pay less for an e-Book over a print edition for your freedoms to slowly erode? Is this a good case for a movement to return to print over digital? Are people buying a non-mainstream e-reader because they care about privacy or because the hardware is better? Sadly, we might never know the answers to these questions. If you have any thoughts, weigh in below.
Michael Kozlowski is the Editor in Chief of Good e-Reader. He has been writing about audiobooks and e-readers for the past ten years. His articles have been picked up by major and local news sources and websites such as the CNET, Engadget, Huffington Post and Verge.