Is Spying on Readers Inevitable?

In "Moneyball for Publishers: A Detailed Look at How We Read," Alexandra Alter and Karl Russell of the NYT look at how Jellybooks is tracking eBook readers habits. The results are not too surprising. On a "successful" book (from a marketing standpoint, at least), some 62% of readers finish. On books that have had "marketing scaled back," 90% of readers give up after five chapters.

Alter and Russell discuss some concerns that authors might have over such tracking. They also discuss what it might mean for readers: "But as the book industry gets more sophisticated about how to measure reading behavior and the practice becomes more widespread, real privacy concerns could emerge. . . . Regular e-book readers might not realize that digital retailers are recording and storing the data. A few years ago, California instituted the 'reader privacy act,' which made it harder for law enforcement agencies to collect information on consumers’ digital reading records from e-book retailers. But most other states have not taken such steps." They conclude that "Having Companies Reading Over Your Shoulder Is Probably Inevitable."

We in libraries have long known that major retailers such as Amazon have access to this sort of data. This articles raises, once again, concerns about what library eBook providers might have access to. Are they tracking reading habits similarly? Are our readers aware? If they are, do we wish to see such information ourselves? Do we have the right to see it if our readers haven't specifically given permission? With who else might such data be shared--publishers?

ReadersFirst strongly supports library readers' privacy and advocates that library eBook vendors collect data on reading habits only with readers' full knowledge, only if a library also agrees for it readers, and data not be shared with any one except for libraries--and only then for each individual library's specific readers. We can't control what Amazon does with our readers who get library eBooks there--though we are interested in what Amazon is doing.

What are your thoughts on collecting data on library readers' eBook habits?