/ Books (and Readers) in Browsers


Former Amazon evangelist and founder of BookGenie451 talks about how to apply Big Data to publishing. In the era of web-connected social networks where we can mine user data, how can we mine book data, and merge the two together into a browser-based experience?

Remainder of talk can be seen here starting at 19:05

Download Slides (PPT)


I clearly can't speak without a PowerPoint. Otherwise, I’m lost.

My name is Jason Merkoski. I used to work at Amazon way back when, back in 2005, and I was really on the Kindle team the entire time [video cuts out]

[Video resumes] the reading experience in ebooks that we've all come to love. Afterwards, I wrote a book about the whole experience called Burning the Page, so go buy it now. It's a good book, but I would say that. One of the things I learned from being at Amazon was all about data, and I’m going to talk to you a lot about customer data and the importance of data. Because at Amazon we got to know a lot about our customers, and it's a very important thing for a lot of the people in the room, excepting perhaps the terra cotta warrior figurines. We got to collect the reading preferences from our readers: what they read on, the devices they used, how far through a book they got, why the read in some cases. This let us tailor the next generation of products better because we got to know the customers.

Now, being in retail isn't the only way you can get this data, and I know a lot of people here in the room are in different parts of the ebook experience from authorship all the way over to retail and publishing and platforms. I think there are lessons here that we can learn, and I want to talk to you about a case study of what I did with my own book (that guy there) as an experiment and talk about some technologies which emerged from that experiment.

I spent a couple weeks before my book was launched creating an app in Facebook and Twitter where you read the book on the ebook reader and there are links at the end of the chapter and you click on them within your browser, and readers of my book get freebies. So, you might, for example, see various images appearing in your Twitter or Facebook timelines posting as you, and it's also a way of conversing with other readers. From a pure marketing perspective, there's some virality here. These things go directly on your timeline, and the hope is these digital postcards will help encourage communication around the topics, which in this case it's ebooks. I'm all about ebooks. I care about reading. Here’s an example of what it might look like within Twitter and so forth.

So what did I learn from this? Because as users are clicking through an app, I get to collect data, not just going straight to a webpage. I get to collect the little stuff about them through Facebook or Twitter, and I think there's something here that we can learn about in terms of how basically readership will change and what readers want and how you as authors, publishers, retailers react to it.

The carrot is all these postcards. Behind the scenes, I learned that my users are from maybe 129 different countries. You know the usual suspects: United States, Great Britain, Germany, and Canada. 99.3 percent of my users up there on the left opted in for email alerts. I think that's great. That means they’re hungry for conversation, or at least they didn't know how to opt out. 61 percent of my users are...I have a closer slide of that. For being a math guy, I tend to violate the cardinal sin of charts, and I don't put labels at the top about what this really means, what the axes are. This is by time, so when the book launched in April, most of the users were on Twitter, and they kind of dropped down as it became more mainstream. Diffusion of innovation happened, and people like my mom started reading the book and less became about innovators and early adopters. This does tell me I should spend more time promoting books on Twitter when books launch initially, which was kind of counter to my expectations.

Also, twice as many men as women read the book based on the demographics I collected, which is interesting, so maybe there's an opportunity there for my publisher or me to do a targeted campaign on Facebook or elsewhere.

Again, another violation here. You’ll have to imagine [video cuts out]

[Video resumes] you know how many people actually clicked relative to those who actually decided to participate in the app experience and engage with me. Chapter 1 has lots of click-throughs. Chapter 3 less. You sort of imagine this will drop off, but because there’s some carrots and we’re giving the users free things, you expect them to never quite know, so they’re always going to try to engage a little bit.

This gives me a ready-made graph to see how users engage with the book, and I think this is an important thing for a lot of reasons. For me, I can see which chapters are the most boring. Chapter 17: The Future of Libraries, very sadly, not much engagement. Either not a very interesting topic or I wrote the chapter [YouTube video ends. You can access the remainder of the video at the Ustream link above.]