Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Winston: New tool for publishers

By Steve Weddle

Many years ago, my wife and I would wake in the middle of the night, startled by a strange clicking noise we couldn’t place. Thin and sporadic, the clicks would advance and retreat through the darkened bedroom before either of us was awake enough to triangulate the aural attacks.

As it turned out, our DirecTV box was dialing home, through the phone line, to update the computers at DirecTV with, I imagine, what show we watched, whether we skipped commercials, how to reconcile our Nielsen journal of “Masterpiece Theatre marathons” with the box’s record of non-stop SportsCenter.

A wonder, then, that it’s taken this long for someone to develop Winston, a data collection tool for ebooks. The software, what they’d call “malvera” in Esperanto or “unecht” in German, was developed by Sidd Finch Enterprises with one goal in mind: making better books.

Here’s how Winston works. As of April 31, 2012, all ereaders will have the plug-in installed. From that moment on, all publishers will have access to your reading data for each ebook. When you started the book. How long you spent on each page. Where you stalled.

Imagine how great future books will be once publishers begin utilizing this information.

For example, say you purchased a book called FUNERAL DREAMS and downloaded it immediately to your ereader. But instead of reading that book when you got home that night, you played Words With Friends. Or you farted around on Facebook. Imagine now a publisher being able to prompt you with pop-up reminders. *Bop!* When you’re done with Facebook, don’t forget to read FUNERAL DREAMS, a book your Facebook friend Toni McShae gave four stars!

Publishers have been working at a great disadvantage for a long time. Think about the books you’ve bought but never read, started but never finished. Think about all those authors you’ll never buy again. Why? At what point in the book did you leave?

Maybe you gave a book 25 pages to get going. Maybe you got through the first-person narrative of Part One, but gave up during the plodding third-person Part Two. Maybe you got hung up scrolling through footnotes of a nonfiction book, flipping back and forth to the index.

Imagine how much publishers can learn from your reading habits.

Perhaps they can offer up new versions of books once they find out that 27% of readers stalled out during a particularly slow section of the latest coming-of-age novel.

Or publishers can compare your reading of books. Maybe you speed through light sci-fi, finish the read, then click to buy the next edition. Maybe publishers will determine this is where they need to focus more of their debut novelist dollars.

Maybe you only read established authors, more likely to read two dozen books in a series you like than to try a new author from the bookstore’s similar algorithms.

Once you’ve bought the book, the publishers need to know what works for you and what doesn't, so that they can continue to make books like that, books that sell.

Imagine the report that says you were reading a screen every three minutes for the first 100 screens, then when the lasers started or the zombies attacked or the puppy was dognapped, you went to a screen a minute and didn’t let up until it was over.

Imagine how much information a publisher would be able to get from your habits and how much more sellable all the books could become.

As an author, how great would it be for you to get an email from your publisher, detailing where people stopped reading your book. Maybe you and the editor could then work on revamping the book, putting out a second "Winston Approved" edition that merges a couple of characters or adds in more vampyres. Maybe you could take what you learned from readers' approaches to your book to alter how you write the second book in the series.

There is a reason McDonald’s sells billions of hamburgers and Joe’s Hipster Burger sells a hundred – you know exactly what you’re getting from McDonald’s. You’re getting the same burger you had for lunch last week. Readers are sophisticated. They know what they want. And if your police procedural drags in the second act, they'll leave you for another author just like you, only better.

Imagine how lucrative publishing will become once the information from Winston begins to be used. It’s a brave world, folks. And speaking of BRAVE NEW WORLD, if you read that one at a screen every half-minute, Winston suggests you’ll like BRAVE NEW WORLD: NEW MOON.


Nigel Bird said...

They could serve us the same book up time and time again, maybe with new covers and different names on the front. Brilliant :)
Ever had your computer taken over online by someone sorting out a problem? Weird stuff, like they're actully in your room and might reach out of the screen any moment.
I'm reading All The Young Warriors just now. The info you'll be getting is that I sit down with it whenever I can (not enough, given the week's been so crazily busy on the family front), that I read all the words quickly and want very much to get to the next page while at the same time wanting to savour the quality and to try and learn something about writing and that I sometimes read my kindle in the bath and sometimes while sucking on Pepper sweets (current favourite and yummy - free pepper sweets with every book and a little plastic toy; now we're talking).

Dana King said...

Today is Pi Day; April Fool isn't for a couple of weeks yet.

You had me going up until the Sidd Finch reference.

Steve Weddle said...

Nigel, pepper sweets with each purchase sounds like a great idea.

Dana, Guess us old baseball fans gotta stick together.

Al Tucher said...

You're a dangerous man, Steve Weddle.

Steve Weddle said...

Al, I try.

Steven J. Wangsness said...

And not just a coincidence, I guess, that Winston Smith is the protagonist of 1984....

Benjamin Sobieck said...

I knew something was up when I saw April 31.