The future of ebooks

Keith Schacht| September 19th, 2010
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Future of eBooksAdam Smith had an interesting comment about ebooks, “Imagine looking at a book on Amazon and seeing ‘We predict that you personally will read 5 pages of this book.’  Or, on the flip side, ‘You will read 98% of this book.’ Holy shit!  So much better than average star ratings.”

This got me thinking. You’re probably already familiar with the entrepreneurial wisdom that the first step to improving something is to measure it, and it’s corollary, be careful what you measure because that’s what you’ll end up optimizing for. In applying this, there is lots of discussion about the benefits of A/B testing for web applications. And, a small tangent, I’ve seen some interesting discussion about this applied to video as well. I was intrigued to learn recently that Salman Khan of the is able to see at what point in the videos his viewers stop watching, and, based on this, he works to improve his lessons.

Anyway, Adam’s idea for Amazon to feed the reading data back to the purchasers, but even better would be to feed it back to the authors. I’d love for authors to start improving the books, cutting out the parts that nearly everyone skips over, and just generally learning how their audience is engaging with what they’ve written. I’ve been frustrated for awhile at the length of most non-fiction I read. Business books in particular are filled with bloat. There is often only an essay’s worth of interesting ideas in there, but they felt the need to drag it out to the length of a book.

Imagine the day when books will be fluid like web applications. We’ll see early released copies that you can buy at a discounted price and then authors will improve the book as the Amazon kindle data starts to stream in: what sections are most often highlighted, how many pages do people read, what’s the average reading session length for your book compared with others, where do they stop reading, etc. These early “beta readers” will help improve the quality of the final released book for millions of people.

3 Responses to “The future of ebooks”

  1. Amy Mossoff Says:
    September 19th, 2010 at 7:24 pm

    Not sure I’m with you on this one. Business books and other self-help type books, maybe. But anything else? Probably not. (And then, what makes something a “book” at all?)

    An argument in your favor: I do recall one book you recommended to me, Sleep: A Groundbreaking Guide to the Mysteries, the Problems, and the Solutions. My review of it stated:
    “I found that it wasn’t really necessary to read [the whole book] because my friend had already given me the best advice he had gleaned from it: …” and then I summed up the whole book in one sentence.

  2. Kevin Morrill Says:
    September 19th, 2010 at 7:39 pm

    This is in part why I would love to see eye tracking built into laptops and desktops. The adaptive software that can be built would be amazing. The hardware if built at scale could probably be fairly cheap. Figuring out exactly what works best in the software platform would be a challenge, but also a huge opportunity for either Apple or Microsoft.

  3. WC Says:
    September 20th, 2010 at 4:29 pm

    I think a system like this would have improved the Wheel of Time series greatly. Jordan got off to an amazing start, and then kind of lost his way. I don’t think he was getting enough feedback about it. Some objective feedback would have helped him.

    Sanderson (the author that took up the torch from Jordan) seems to know how to do it right, though. I would still have preferred Jordan finish it, but at least he was able to pump Sanderson full of info.

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