In October of last year, news broke on The Digital Reader that Adobe Digital Editions was taking a significant amount of user data and sending it back to their servers. Adobe Digital Editions (ADE) is a program that allows readers to put ebooks onto their reading devices from retailers and libraries alike. The program’s terms and conditions don’t mention anything about the extra data logging, and there was some outrage. Users were concerned that Adobe was getting data from every single page they read.
It’s understandable that ADE users were upset that their data was being taken in a way that they hadn’t agreed to. However, tracking how a reader engages – or doesn’t engage – with an ebook is only going to increase. Retailers like Amazon, Apple, Kobo, and others all track usage data from the ebooks they sell. It’s not just retailers that do this either, Oyster and Scribd also track actions of their subscribers.
So what’s being tracked when we read a book on a Kindle or open up the Oyster app? Retailers and subscription services track how far you’ve read in a book, where in the book you stopped reading it, how quickly you read it, and how you came across that book, among other data.
Say the data for This Book shows that most people who stop reading the book before completion quit in chapter 7. The fear is that the editor of This Book will ask the author to make some changes to chapter 7 to hopefully increase the number of readers who read all of the way to the end. Buzzfeed Reporter Joseph Bernstein mused on this idea: “Excuse me, Mr. Joyce, you’re losing a lot of Kindle Fire readers here in this third section. Maybe tighten it up a smidge?” All jokes aside, there are some who aren’t concerned at all. Bernstein interviewed Claudia Ballard, an agent at WME who said “…people have been picking up books and not finishing them for a long time. At the end of the day a unit sold is a unit sold.” Of course, that’s not strictly true with ebook subscriptions.
Since users of a subscription service pay one monthly fee for unlimited books, royalties to authors are calculated differently. Mark Coker, CEO of Smashwords, has openly told the press how each payout schedule is structured for both Oyster and Scribd. It’s no surprise that both payout systems are tied to engagement. Coker spoke to GoodEreader about Oyster’s payment structure for Smashwords authors saying, “As a Smashwords author or publisher, you’ll earn 60% of your book’s retail list price whenever an Oyster subscriber reads more than 10% of your book, starting from the beginning of the book forward.” Coker also spoke to Fast Company about Scribd’s payout system, “The first 10% of every book from page one forward is available as a free sample. If readers read an additional 20% more, the author and publisher get credit for a full sale of the book, 60% of the list price. Scribd will also pay in cases where the reader reads more than the first 15% of the book, but less than 30%. In that situation, the author gets a ‘browse credit.’ For every 10 browses, they get credit for a full sale.” It should be noted that these payment structures are for Smashwords only. Oyster and Scribd are both fairly quiet about how their payments work, but it’s clear that it’s based, at least in part, on engagement data per book. Read More