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Here’s how reader analytics can help publishers

I recently asked what questions you’d like to see answered via reader analytics. I gathered feedback from a variety of publishers including trade, professional and educational.

The standard requests about reading sequence, how long it takes to finish a chapter, what devices are used, etc., were raised, of course. But there were a number of other suggestions I hadn’t anticipated, and reader data could definitely help answer these questions for authors, editors and publishers.

Here are a few of the more interesting questions publishers are hoping reader analytics will help answer:

What’s the conversion rate for samples/previews? This is another reason for publishers to develop and implement an ebook sampling program they totally own and promote aggressively. 

What time of day and what days of the week are most popular for reading? It would be interesting to compare titles across genres to see what patterns emerge.

What bonus features/links do readers click on? You’d finally be able to determine whether these additional elements make a difference.

How much time is spent on margin notes (e.g., sidebars and other elements outside the main text)? As one respondent asked, “do readers simply skip past everything in a box?” What a great question, although most of the boxes from the print edition probably disappear in the plain, generic reflow view. Still, it would be great to see if these are being read or skipped.

Related to the previous question, once someone clicks to an external link, how soon do they come back to the book? And, how often does the book reading session come to an end after clicking on those outbound links? It’s every online publisher’s biggest fear. They don’t want to lose the eyeballs for additional ad impressions. Does that same scenario matter in the ebook world?

How long is a single page left open? This one came from a cookbook publisher who is curious to see if they can determine what percentage of readers make the recipes with the ebook open.

Is the index being accessed? Terrific question but I think the cards are stacked against the index. First of all, most ebooks I read have no index. Second, the ones that do have an index typically don’t include links, so all you get is a bunch of page references with no meaning in reflow mode.

Is the table of contents being accessed? Similar to the previous question and largely dependent on whether that TOC includes links.

What content is copied-and-pasted most frequently? Maybe the answers to this terrific question, and the reader behavior it indicates, would help publishers become less squeamish about enabling copy-and-paste from their ebooks.

What are the sentences that are most frequently highlighted and commented on? Some ebook apps let readers see the most popular highlighted sentences but it would be better for publishers to have an aggregated view, including reader comments.

What’s being searched and, more importantly, what’s the conversion rate of readers clicking on a result vs. those who simply give up after the search? It seems like most of us are only asking the first part of that question but it would be wonderful to understand what happens after those search results are displayed. Also, are the most clicked-on results the ones at the top or do we need a better way of presenting and sorting the results?

I’m sure there are other interesting questions reader analytics can help answer but this list is a good start. Given that most publishers receive no reader data whatsoever, answering even a handful of these questions would represent a huge step in the right direction.


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