Book analytics

This is the fourth in my musings on the book writing process. When my book comes out it will be freely available online, in HTML (I think). I don't know how the site will be constructed, but it strikes me that as an author this is potentially very interesting.

I'm at the Learning Analytics conference at the moment, and Tony has been talking about Google Analytics. I run this on my blog, and it's always interesting, but the type of data it might give a book author is more revealing. On my blog it tells me where people have come from, that most people tend to come from search, and come to one post only. That's probably what you'd expect.

But analytics on a book is a different thing. As an author you have no idea how people actually read your stuff or what they find interesting. Potentially (it will depend on how the site is constructed) it could show me the following:

  1. How long people read
  2. What elements are most popular
  3. What search terms bring people to my book (which could be seen as a proxy for what the audience really is)
  4. What sections are being linked to (and therefore are presumably of most use?)
  5. If people come back, which would be some indication of interest and relevance

You'd never know this stuff from a conventional book, which is one of the advantages of working this way. What would be interesting then would be if I did a rewrite of the book, how much this analytics might influence the process. If one chapter hardly ever got read, should I just excise it? Conversely should I expand a section that gets lots of links? 

What I won't know is if there are different reading patterns for the physical book and the online version. I suspect people will tend to read the paper version in longer chunks, and the online one in a less linear fashion. But paper doesn't give me any data back, dammit.

 

3 Comments

  1. No great ideas but check with pyschologists of reading – re analysing fingerprints, bent pages etc – and check out book clubs for key authors – zealous readers musk know a lot about their behaviour – and arts/humanities students glued to set texts (especially in US institutions)- and in UK, I see them regularly on the train – and marking up the books too
    To open your mind further check out Jasper Fforde! http://www.blipfoto.com/view.php?id=1003767 (recent tweet by an e-learning guru you know)
    P

  2. Just wait until some future gen iPad or Kindle uses infrared and a webcam to track eye gaze of readers as they work through your book (or not). Book analytics explosion!

  3. @Paul – yes after I’d posted I thought that in a way books do give some data such as a well thumbed book, broken spine, etc. But of course none of this is connected back to the author. Library loans might give some record too, but only at the macro level, not at the fine granularity that is available online.
    @Jared – now that’s the kind of data I want! Also ‘what did people do after reading my book?’ ‘How many fell asleep?’ ‘What are their credit card details?’ etc

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