ent-Retaining digital readers

Picture: The Van der Graaf or Tertiary Canon, used for page design creates harmony by its rules -which- lead the textblock to having the same ratio of the page, but it also positions it in perfectly whole units.

Publishers should care about the difficulties created by digital reading, leading to users nowadays to lose attention and becoming distracted while reading online or, being the case, any digital platform.

When you design a book, you ideally set a page size, layout and ortho-typographic characteristics for it. Every publisher worth his/her salt has to guarantee an ideal formatting of their books so they help the reader to get a better understanding of the content.

There is no agreed philosophy on this, some say roman fonts are better for long books, some say grotesques are better, some defend wider margins and white space, while others keep broad columns filled with text. In any of those cases, there is a clear purpose on the Publisher’s part to satisfy the readers needs as per their mission and philosophy.

We all remember “The Crystal Goblet” by Beatrice Warde, taught in our Design class, where you can only delight on the content when you do not nottice the recipient. I also remember seeing a documentary where they said, the cup has to be wide, so the corners of your mouth, which have lots of sensory terminals, could soak in the wine (or water) and you get a much improved sensation while drinking. I found this to be true, but what matters of these couple metaphors, is that, just like Pottery does to your drinking, Editorial Design also have its ways to enhance the readers experience. And its because of their mere existence, that Publishers have the responsibility to apply them to every field they intervene.

Several studies, some of which we reviewed last week  (here is another, just for completion purposes), point out that reading online hinders the optimal comprehension (i.e. to grasp the nature, significance, or meaning of… something) of the content. Yet, these platforms are common among all of us, whether for reading books, or to learn other contents, not available elsewhere.

So why would a digital publisher should not care about their readers fully comprehending the contents they publish and thus, provide the optimal format for this? The only reasons I can think of, is the ignorance of these format conventions, or the ways to code or implement them in their products.

Beyond these formal rules, there are other factors that keep readers distracted from the text, these have more to do with the multi-task and all encompassing lifestyles we are continually being suggested, it has nothing to do with the comfortability of reading on one or other platform. People have always been able to drink something while reading, but now they also need to be checking the screen of their phones at all times, the result (I soaked my book while drinkng my tea and checcking phone”. Before this, the -dial- phone also ringed some times, or night came and people could not read, there was hardly a time when you could do nothing else but reading (except an IELTS certification exam of course), but since books have existed, people have taken measures to provide an optimal reading, from creating spaces dedicated to the activity, to the lecterns, reading lamps, seats and many other gadgets. It was even a ritualized activity! And they have also invented a bunch of reasons why they don’t read.

Nowadays, most people believe it is a “democratic” privilege to be able to read on the go, while on the bus or train, from the screen of a reader, tablet or smartphone. It is also believed, everything on the screen is something to be readable, while it is not, sometimes it is not even legible. This is where publishers of all kinds have messed up with the act of reading on their part.

Lets consider the famous “accessibility” feature of digital texts, an elegant name for “zoom in/out” in most cases. Does this help people read better? From the designer point of view, it is an aberration, because the screen size limits the column width, and with this, all the careful work usually done on a printed book is thrown in favor of bigger letters and shorter lines. The mere fact to be scrolling down to reach the next line is a distraction. When people had “accessibility” problems with printed books, they bought a magnifying glass,there are some like a sheet you put on top of the book and you have your accessibility, you don’t mess with the layout, period. This may be a rudimentary example, but it shows how these technologies are not necessarily new.

So yes, it is not only their responsibility but also their fault things are screwed up like this.

So what can be done? From the design POV, first and foremost would be to learn the basic -and advanced- principles of formatting texts, including the editing canon, even if you are not going to do the formatting, you will at least know how it would look like. Then, learn how they can be implemented in digital works.

Primitive digital books in PDF preserved page format, today we have CSS to do that online. For all the myriad of possible digital texts, we have to learn how to control the text flow on a screen, and what are the best results that can be achieved with them.

Text now interacts with video, hyperlinks, buttons, menus, etc. The digital reading age is in fact too young and ever changing, but most of the basic obstacles have been overcome, so it is a matter of putting some interest to the task, not just writing a long column for a blog or leaving the available space after that huge banner in your website. Ebooks need a major set of rules, and it  will just take a successful publisher to find the ideal format, at least for one of the many platforms out there. Its a worthy excercise, an ongoing one I insist, contrary to the centennial rules of book publishing, we are living the age where these matters are about to emerge.

Final note: And fear not because we are human beings, capable of adapting to new standards, given enough time, so even if no one achieves a successful result, we will deal with reading on five or six different ways anyway

Oh! and just a final note: That Van der Graaf thing, was not exclusive to


Digital Tracking & the Responsibility of the User

Digital tracking has been in the news lately more than Donald Trump – who knew that any topic would ever manage that?! Or no… wait, you could easily just argue that it’s still about Donald Trump and politics, only that the focus is the tens of millions of online users that got duped. In her article about The Cambridge Analytica files, the fragment that stood out the most to me was the question writer Carole Cadwalladr posed to Wiley in regards to an analogy to bullying. Wiley responded, “’I think it’s worse than bullying because people don’t necessarily know it’s being done to them. At least bullying respects the agency of people because they know. So it’s worse, because if you do not respect the agency of people, anything that you’re doing after that point is not conducive to a democracy. And fundamentally, information warfare is not conducive to democracy.”

This aspect of data tracking shook me to my core. The reality is that 7 years ago, I had a messenger conversation with one of my smartest friends in Romania and he was showcasing to me his Master’s work. I did hear him when he said that every single keyboard stroke, even those that are deleted, in fact remain encrypted in the system. I heard him but I did not listen.

Online users range dramatically in behaviour, and some accept tracking as “a matter of fact,” while others become disenchanted and slow down… and others grow paranoid and disappear altogether. The main issue here is the ripple effect of this revelation. In my case, after my friend’s lessons began to sink in, I took a step back and converted my page from personal content to a collection of articles. In other words, I deliberately became the gal at the water fountain spouting “Hey, did you knows?” and all about content relevant to me: astronomy, nature, relevant people of the world, moving digital shorts, etc.

I also monitor the settings each time Facebook makes an update. I think they’re not going to do anymore but they had this habit of overwriting the new settings because they were expanding the menu… and the onus was on you to untick a bunch of sections. In addition, one of the tools I’ve employed since the new updates has been the careful curation of posts – some are locked to “me” (with the lock symbol), most are “for friends only,” (the two people logo) and once in a blue moon, some are “global” (with the globe logo). The latter is my way of manipulating what I want potential employers or non-friends to know about me, who I am, what I care about. Political content is something I post less and less about, and never allow it to be public. It still exists, however, computationally-speaking, as part of my “online persona,” but I am one of those people that believes that if you stand for nothing, you’ll fall for anything.

On a larger scale, however: in conjunction with the #deletefacebook movement, an immediate response came from Elon Musk. Both Space X and Tesla had around 2.6 million followers and Musk deleted them both within minutes of being challenged on Twitter. Mark Zuckerberg reacted shortly thereafter by first, reverting to the older model of showcasing family and friends postings, and subsequently, in a very intelligent PR move, issuing a public apology in several newspapers, on both sides of the ocean.

Is that enough though?

I don’t think so.

I think the responsibility lies with each individual. The trouble is that whether educated or not, school-taught or life-taught, millions and millions fell into the traps of silly apps, without ever bothering to retrace their steps when they were told “the results require access to a, b, c.”

Do you know what I’m referring to? If you do, don’t accept.

If you don’t, I’ll let you look it up because a lesson learned by yourself is a lesson better remembered.

I’m going to end with a data tracking anecdote: the friend mentioned above was told to use his personal computer as test hamster. By accessing the IP remotely and harvesting the full list of keyboard strokes, including the deleted ones, he found out that his girlfriend was cheating on him.

Nothing is ever lost in the digital realm, remember that.

Changing our online habits: a start

In considering the Cambridge Analytica breach of Facebook’s data, digital tracking and online privacy has been brought to the top of the public’s concern. I am relieved that this is not news that mainstream news sources is ignoring and is being properly covered across the board. Since the news came out, it has been a very eye-opening revelation that the “Big Brother” dystopian landscape has already happened and is our reality. What can we do before it is too late?

While deleting Facebook may seem like the easiest solution, I do not think there are any simple steps that I could suggest changing our behaviour about digital tracking. Also, not everyone has the luxury of deleting their Facebook profiles and still retain the same amount of follower reach or brand awareness for their businesses. High-profile companies like Tesla, SpaceX, all associated with Elon Musk have made the choice to delete all of their Facebook pages. These companies are popular enough that they do not need to depend on Facebook anymore. There is also the #deletefacebook movement occurring too. However, the solution is not as simple as deleting Facebook but rather making meaningful changes to your online habits and the traces you leave behind.

Everyone has their own relationship with technology and social media, and the levels at which they depend and use it. While one person may jokingly (but with a grain of truth) say they cannot live without their smartphone in their hand, there are some people who still completely embrace the analog and all the levels in-between. Where you fall on that scale depends on the person. That is why it is so crazy to believe how much of an influence of the curation of online advertisements and articles by Cambridge Analytica had a role in the U.S. election.

To understand Cambridge Analytica’s strategy, they used psychographic information. Psychographics is not a term that is unfamiliar to our classes either. Cambridge Analytica optimized their data analysis process to micro-target specific groups of people based on their personalities. Similarly, for publishers this data would be immensely valuable to their marketing strategy too, just applied in a different context. We have already tried to narrow down exactly where our audience lies with resources like Vividata for our media projects.

It is almost like this double-identity/awkward place to be in as both a stakeholder in these data companies optimizing their analytics for publishers, and also treading the lines of being the potential target for other brands and know exactly what is happening to you but “don’t mind.” When Cambridge Analytica spreads fake news, and “alternative facts”, I think here is where it is important to balance which courses are credible or not, doing a careful reading, and to triangulate the information from what the source is telling you. Then, it is also about being a skeptical reader and having the self-control to pause for a moment and think before spreading an article. At the other end, checking the credibility of the source, who the author is, the publisher will help too. For publishers, I believe this is where it is important to build a genuine relationship between readers, the authors, and the publisher itself so that readers know that what they are reading is from not only from a credible source, but wants to inspire a genuine connection with its audience. I think that leveraging social media as a platform for that interaction is a way that can be done. Overall, these are just a few of my suggestions!


Tracking digital reading behaviour to improve students’ e-reading experiences

If I were going to use tracking to enhance publishing practice, I would like to use it to address the needs of educational publishing. In my experience in psychology and biology classes in my undergrad, it’s becoming very common for textbooks to come with digital components. In my classes it was usually a website you could log in to and access the text on the web, as well as view other media. There was usually a limited and finicky highlighting and annotation function, too. My experience as a user varied a lot from book to book. I remember finding some textbook’s corresponding sites useful in their content but frustrating to navigate. I think exploring student preferences and consumption behaviour would be a great application of tracking. If I were an educational publisher I would use reader analytics and tracking to specialize in delivering very user-friendly e-textbooks.

One challenge would be that students are required to read their textbooks. This means they don’t have the option to skip passages that are unreadable. The data would show a high engagement rate, but only because the students had no choice but to finish the chapter. Even in cases where they didn’t, this data would be skewed in that it would not be a reliable measure of the readability of the passage.

For that reason, my tracking in education publishing would instead focus on two other areas. The first would be on measuring time. For example, measuring the average length of time it takes students to complete a passage, or how long students are able to focus on a typical textbook before they have to put down their device. This information (which would likely differ between different fields) could be used to tailor the length of sections and chapters so that they are in readable sizes, and to let publishers know which parts need work before they release the next edition. It would also be useful for professors in planning their syllabi.

The second area I would focus on is making the reader analytics software responsive and customizable. The reader would create an account and read the text, and the reader tracking software would become familiar with their particular reading habits. Once the software had analyzed enough of my reading behaviour data, it would be able to tell me how much time to set aside for each particular chapter, when my prime studying time of day is, and how often I need to take a break.

The challenge here would be that the customizable software would function better and better over time as it became familiar with your reading habits. But by the time the software got good at understanding the student, the semester would be over. So maybe my reader analytics software could include a short “training” period where the reader is asked to run through a few pages of different kinds of text, designed to represent the kinds of text common in that particular field. The reader’s habits could then be understood and taken into account by the software a little faster. This is kind of like how Cortana (the Siri-like bot that comes with Windows 10) “learns” my accent and dialect of English by having me read particular phrases out loud.

The reason I would like to focus on educational publishing is that I would rather apply reader analytics to the goal of improving student success and experience than to hyperfocused marketing campaigns. As textbooks today in many fields are a hybrid of print and digital, educational publishers must understand student’s preferences and behaviour and take them into account when planning digital reading experiences.

Metadata for Tracking

My blog post from last week discussed some specific questions I had in regards to tracking reader habits. So, this week, I want to discuss something more behind the scenes of tracking—metadata.

A couple weeks ago, our class discussed the metadata behind books, but what about the metadata behind the readers? In an article on the Publishing Perspectives blog, the owner of Jellybooks Andrew Rhomberg talks about some of the reader data they collect: “Do they open the book? Do they finish the book? Do they read the book during their commute or do they read on weekends? Do they read the book fast, do they read it slow?” and many other questions are listed, questions that Jellybooks aims to answer with their reader tracking software.

These are great questions to answer, and I can definitely see how the answers to such questions would help publishers make more informed decisions about what books to publish, and when. However, I think a lot is left out by excluding the metadata of readers. Questions like “Do they read the book during their commute or do they read on weekends?” implies that Jellybooks knows when people are on their commute, but those who work on weekends could be reading on their commute and their reading time would count as weekend reading.

People who read using ereaders know that their reading progress is being tracked. (It would be in the terms and conditions, and even if they do not read the T&Cs it should be obvious to the average person.) If Jellybooks and other reader tracking software companies collected metadata from their readers to specify their collected data, I think they would get a lot more useful, specific information. They could start with a reader survey, asking questions such as: When are you most often commuting to work / school? What are your most common days off? Are you generally a slow reader or a fast reader? These questions can help to narrow down and specify the data already being collected and help publishers and booksellers to better know their customers.

I’m Just Thinking We Need a Little Less Ayn Rand Up in Here

Having grown up in America, where capitalism is treated as a moral standard, I can see the appeal of having easy access to the details of everyone’s interests and opinions. At the bottom line, even in an industry so necessarily introspective as publishing, any business’s priority is to remain in business. If data is the key of finding out how to sell your product/idea and who to sell it to, then it would be stupid to ignore its significance. It’s important for us to identify how much this affects the decisions we make as publishers and how relevant our decisions are to the predicament at large.

Arguably, publishers don’t have the same capacity or intent for thwarting democracy that the folks over at Cambridge Analytica do. But at the same time, publishing is a medium for information. The key is to make someone’s ideas — fact or fiction — spread as far as possible. If we’re collecting readers’ data, it’s because we want to know how to sell things to them, which is still at the core level still a tool that can be used to create a more homogenized and/or polarized society.

The relative definition of privacy adds another layer to the problem. When Jellybooks or Facebook quizzes ask for your data and give you something in return, they’re acquiring consent. The problem is that the average human will assume a level of innocuousness in the action. For Jellybooks, there’s perhaps a little more transparency; you are aware that you are receiving a good in return for doing something. The insidiousness of Cambridge Analytica was the purposeful lack of transparency. But at the end of the day, it’s the capacity of the technology rather than its use that’s to be taken under scrutiny. The information that they wanted was for the most part public knowledge. If someone likes the “I hate Israel” page and then likes the “Kit-Kat” page, and their account isn’t privacy locked then I have the ability to see that information. Back in the early days of Facebook, users liked pages specifically because they wanted the public to know. It’s not that users don’t want people to know about their interests – it’s that they don’t understand the full significance of what giving consent means in a particular situation where someone has the ability to ask a ton of people at once.

Since coming to Canada and specifically since learning about how the Canadian book industry is subsidized by government grants I’ve been observing the alternatives to a capitalist approach to publishing. It’s not that I don’t think that Canadian businesses should be exempt from the motivation to make money, but rather that Canadian publishers should be more in tune to the problems that arise from a fully capitalist approach to anything — that placing too much value on monetary gain doesn’t place enough value on human welfare. The socialism that publishing in Canada is in part built upon reinforces the idea that creating literature, art, and research is a public service that creates public goods. Looking at the language used so often to talk about user data, we see words like: harvest, mine, scrape. At an etymological level, the terminology used removes the idea of users as people and instead creates a psychological objectification of the user base. Though we as publishers see ourselves as the medium through which writers reach readers, that distance grows ever wider when we reduce readers to dollar signs and binary code.

I’ve traveled down this unwieldy path of the philosophical dilemmas that data tracking brings up, but at the end of the day what it really comes down to is transparency and consent. Cambridge Analytica was deliberately unethical where I would hope publishers could maintain integrity. There’s nothing inherently wrong with data tracking, as long as the proper measures for consent are set up (and they’re not just used to avoid legal backlash).

I will say that to an extent I think this race for data tracking software in publishing is a little misled. It implies that we aren’t reaching readers now that we otherwise would be reaching if we had more information about their reading behavior once they’ve already purchased a book. I would argue that we would be selling books to the people who are already buying them rather than opening up a new market, and that we already have a lot of data about the people who read books; we know their demographic information, their interests, their location, and how much they’re willing to spend on books. What I’d like to see is real concrete evidence that tracking reader data would make an impact on the book market.

Tracking for Manuscripts

If tracking were to be used to enhance publishing practice, I would develop a system that allowed unknown/unpublished authors a chance to make their way to the forefront. I would take data from sites like GoodReads, or WhatShouldIReadNext.com, as well as other places for book reviews, such as Amazon. I would (or rather, the technology would) search for phrases like “I liked this book because…” or “the (blank) didn’t resonate with me” — descriptive phrases that gave concrete examples of what worked in the book and what didn’t. This would amass a database of certain ebbs and flows of plot, character, theme, etc. A manuscript could then be scanned into they system and the computer would search for similar ebbs and flows: Are there repeated romance themes in what is supposed to be a horror novel? Is there variety in dialog tags? How many action scenes are there? Which words get repeated the most (e.g. ‘sad’, ‘cried’, ‘whimpered’)? The program could then take that information and find comparable books and give a range of what was most successful and least successful, and why readers liked or disliked it.

This could be used in tandem with software that tracks trends in bestseller book sales. For example, if what is “in” in a particular season is dystopian young adult novels, the public might not notice a quirky, modern day love story about two tennis players. Or the audience might be tiring of the dystopian theme and be ready for it. It would all depend on timing, which a trend tracker would be able to plot. A trend tracker like this would take data from bookstores like Indigo, and (if they could get their hands on the data) Amazon.

This is not to say that the data collected and used to analyze a new manuscript would then make a guaranteed call. But the process could help unknown publishers get their books noticed a little bit more by acquisitions. It is important to note that in this hypothetical situation it would be only new authors that get put through the analyzation. As has been discussed before, a best selling author is more likely to keep producing best sellers, so they already have a better stamp of guarantee on their work, for better or worse.

The technology may always be a little bit flawed, but it just might make task of picking out the best bets in a stack of manuscripts that need more work (or that the world isn’t ready for, or has seen enough of) just a little bit easier.

The Churning Must Go On

As more news emerges about the Cambridge Analytica scandal, I feel myself going through a range of emotions – confusion, disbelief, insecurity, paranoia, anger . . . and resignation. I am sure I am not alone in this flux. We’re all in it together – willingly or unwittingly. As a Facebook user (a decade now), I feel I’ve already shared so much with FB that there is no turning back. They have my number already. But then so do I. I think FB and I finally understand each other. This entire event actually drove me to look for some answers in the Indian mythology (we have answers for everything!).

Samudra Manthan is one of the more popular stories of the Bhagavata Purana, which finds expression in numerous South Asian miniatures and carvings across the ancient Indian kingdoms. It’s a fascinating story of the Devas (good guys) and the Asuras (bad guys) jointly churning the Ocean of Milk or Kshirsagara to obtain the Nectar of Immortality or Amrita. Although initially it is decided that the nectar would be shared equally between the two, but the Devas tricked the Asuras and consumed it all to attain immortality. However Amrita was not the only object that emerged from the Kshirsagara. The Bhagavata Purana describes numerous other living and inanimate beings which were birthed from the Ocean. This episode talks of alliances, treachery, deceit, intentions, desires and problem-management, among other things. But the chief image which is being highlighted is, of course, the manthan itself. The churning.

Mythology expert, Dr. Devdutt Pattanaik says churning is not the same as tug-of-war. Both require a force and a counter-force, but whereas a tug-of-war implies the two sides implementing force at the same time (so that one side may win), churning requires one party to let go while the other applies force, and vice-versa (so that both are benefited). Change in any form has met with reactions and counter-reactions, but we, as a civilization, have never dwelled on them for too long. Kingdoms have emerged, and kingdoms have been devastated; people have settled and people have moved; temples and mosques and churches have been built and destroyed; there has been love, there has been hate, but nothing has been permanent. A constant churning has been in progress – sometimes in good faith, sometimes in ill-will; but much like the Devas and Asuras, we have been realizing the need for alliance and acceptance; the need to rise to the needs of the times; putting the land above everything else, at some point or another.

The Cambridge Analytica episode brought back the churning into focus for me. We’ve been part of the push and pull to unearth the digital delights of this world. We’ve actively contributed with our data to make our lives better. We’ve been tracked, and quite willingly too. I would like to point out that I feel I’ve been tracked not just the last few years on internet, but essentially since my birth. My kindergarten profiled me as a ‘sweet, but talkative child’, the neighbourhood grocery man knew my buying behaviour, the salesman at the clothing store quickly profiled my likes and dislikes about colours and patterns, my parents thought I was a rebel, my friends thought I was crazy cuckoo. Point being, we’ve been profiled forever. It’s nothing new. With the advancement in technology, this profiling has, in a way, made our lives easier. We have better cars, better houses, better clothes, better medicines etc. Someone is paying close attention to our likes and dislikes and making things just for us. So far, so good.

So while I happily consume the Nectar of Ocean, much like our gods did, I cannot ignore the other darker things that emerge from this or cry unfair. The data that benefited us, can also manipulate us. We need to be aware of that. Alternatively, we can disconnect from the internet and go back to our old ways. But really, is it possible to be disconnected in today’s world? We’re all caught in the spiral now. We can either roll with it or it’ll churn us, whether we like it or not.

What we need today is awareness, of our actions and the implications it can have; not only on us as an individual, but society as a whole. The greatest thing about our world today is the ease of communication. We’re on the cusp of being connected to every other individual on this earth. We’re not without power.  We have access to higher thoughts, ideologies, and intelligence to push back on manipulative intents. It’s all about the push and pull.

The churning must go on.

Anumeha Gokhale

To the Tracking Train!

Data tracking is not the distant future. It is happening now. Companies are realizing its usefulness and they are using Big Data to their advantage in all sorts of fields, from grocery stores to healthcare to cannabis. So far, publishing seems a little late to the game. But why? Are we scared of tracking’s use cases? Are we intimidated by the technology? Maybe the solution to this lies in getting the old guys out of the business and hiring young, tech-savvy people. But that’s a discussion for another day. The point is, avoiding tracking in our line of work is not the answer. If we can harness the power of Big Data tracking, the industry will be better off for it.

In a previous blog post I talked about Crimson Hexagon and how they are analyzing social media conversations to better understand their customers’ customers. I still believe social media is the best way to do this because it gives us a peek into an audience’s real likes and dislikes. We don’t have to stick to the scope of what our audience likes in a book; if we can determine our reader’s general interests, we are able to offer them a book they will truly like, including a book they themselves didn’t even know they needed!

We don’t read books in a vacuum. There is always something going on around us that influences how we feel about a book. Consider a reader with an emotional connection to a children’s book they read when they were young. If we analyze reading habits, we can find out that they like this book, but even if they still like this book as an adult, they won’t necessarily like other children’s books, even with similar stories. Something about that particular book is special to them. By analyzing the environment of a reader’s likes and dislikes we can pinpoint why people like certain books. Imagine being able to provide someone with their childhood nostalgia from an entirely new book! We are maybe not quite at that point yet, but by analyzing the surrounding personality of a reader, we can get even closer.

People talk to their friends and family and in Facebook communities and forums. They share things they find funny and thought-provoking. They check in online to locations that they visit every day. They share content with each other that is so that person. We already know that word of mouth is one of the best ways to promote a book, now we just have to start looking where this word of mouth marketing is actually happening these days. It is not useful for publishers to avoid using tracking technologies. We already know that it is helping companies develop more robust plans of action in plenty of industries. By harnessing the power of social media tracking we can become better in our acquisitions and in developing a focused and formidable niche. Avoiding this tracking simply because we don’t fully understand it is not a viable business solution. We have to act on it now to avoid becoming obsolete.

Invasive Tracking – Is it so bad?

Digital Tracking and, correspondingly, the Big Data it produces is like every other technology in this world, including books: it can be used to the benefit or detriment of humanity. There are huge ethical considerations about what use and how much of it is appropriate, and I myself am a bit torn on the subject. The vast amounts of data collected can be used to better understand human psychology, perhaps at a scale that traditional experimental methods cannot accomplish, and this knowledge can be utilized in different ways. On one hand you have the Cambridge Analytica case, showcasing how this data can be used to manipulate people at a societal level with huge consequences. On the other hand you can, for example, take the results of this controversial Facebook experiment, wherein people’s social feeds were manipulated to see how it affected their emotional levels, and use it to create a happy user-base–by using the findings, reducing the negative to positive content ratio on peoples’ feeds, and improving their emotional health (to whatever extent it can). On the other other hand, that same data from that same experiment can be carefully implemented by Facebook to control peoples’ emotions (to whatever extent it can) towards some sinister end goal.

Data tracking has the potential to be used for more than just capitalism and marketing; it can be used to better understand human behaviour, and I do not think there should be an imposed limit on what kind of tracking can take place – so long as it is all transparent, honest, and consensual. I think of the internet as a shopping mall, and Facebook, or any other website, a storefront–If you are entering somebody’s website (if you are entering somebody’s store), they have the right to know and understand who their customer base is, they have the right to know a little bit about you. In a physical store, they can know this from physical cues (the owner sees you enter the store. Maybe you’re wearing a shirt that says something, or maybe you go directly to a specific section to browse. It gives cues of your interest), or from social cues (the owner strikes up a conversation with you to find out what you like, to be able to make a recommendation for you). There might be a loyalty rewards program, tracking your purchases to understand your likes and tailor recommendations to you. Online just has different ways of tracking your behaviour and the potential to generate a lot of data from its tracking automatically.

For me, unethical comes in at the use stage. Once all of this data is acquired, it can be used to better serve the customer, the patron, the person regularly visiting your site, etc. But it can be used in terrible ways – sold to other corporations, weaponized to manipulate people at a societal level, etc. When identity becomes a commodity, data has gone just a touch too far.

When your online behaviour on one website affects how another website responds to your browser, then I think there’s a problem. Much like the pizza demonstration from Ghostery, it’s a little unsettling to have your information spread without your consent.

To get back to the question, now that I’ve laid out my stance, I’ll relate this to the publishing industry. Publishers, platforms, distributers, etc, have the right to collect information on their customers. The Jellybooks example of tracking reader behaviour in ebooks. But, say, if my reading habits on my ebook started to influence advertisements I see on my laptop chrome browser, then there is unethical and, what I think should be illegal, distribution of that information without my express permission.

As a data collector, the person or corporation collecting the data should be responsible and held accountable for the data collected. But they can certainly collect data to help them better serve the customer, if they so choose, and if they are transparent and receive consent for their use of it.

The Adaption Advantage

As it stands right now, Jellybooks is well-positioned to move in on one of the publisher’s most important (and hardest) jobs: to determine if a book will sell well or not. There is an opportunity for authors to harness this technology and share their books with readers to determine if they are print-ready, bypassing the publisher all together.

Yet there is also an opportunity for publishers here, if they are able to move fast enough (which seems to be a lot to ask in this industry) to take it. If publishers incorporate technology like Jellybooks as a regular part of their service offerings and business practices, there is a chance that authors will feel they need publishers to help them get the most out of the technology to perfect their stories.

Publishers could send draft manuscripts to readers, which would be similar to ARCs but much less polished. The Jellybooks technology would measure reader interest, which the publisher could analyze alongside other decision-making factors (intuition, current trends, etc.) that determine if a book gets published or not.

The data would also help publishers determine how to allocate resources to different books. Books that most people finish and read quickly may only need minor suggestions and copy edits, while books that people stop reading after chapter three would be flagged as needing a closer look at what happens at that point in the book. The editor could then go in and analyze that section of the book, and work with the author to make targeted revisions. This agile revisions process would involve the editor, the author, and the reader (who has been missing from this equation in the past).

By getting more feedback on a book before it is published, publishers and authors can better ensure books will be well received by target audience. Hopefully, the additional work that will go into getting a book ready for print will be balanced out by increased sales that result from stronger books.

Other companies that release products often do rounds of focus group testing to perfect their products, and so it makes sense that this process should be adapted to the publishing industry, especially with the support of technology. Why not have research-based feedback to bolster the editing process? If editors can use this technology to help them do their jobs more efficiently and effectively (by becoming experts in interpreting and responding to the data), then they will be able to mitigate the threat of losing their jobs to the technology.

If we want to stay relevant, we need to find ways to use emerging technologies, like Jellybooks, to our advantage.

Digital readers are lazy and easily distracted

Studies show that reading online can cause skimming and a decrease in understanding and retention of content. Do publishers care? Should they? Whose responsibility is it if it’s not publishers?

Publishers do care and they should care. As far as I’m concern, they are doing their best to utilize their 3 seconds chance to capture the reader’s attention and actually make them read the whole content. Fortunately, publishers don’t have to bear the responsibility alone, as the readers also play a great part of not doing so. But what I’m here to remind you is that the faults don’t necessarily lie on publishers and readers alone, but rather the technology itself.

It’s hard to read on screen, especially with hypertexts.

Have you ever browsed about how to build an Ikea chair and then an hour later found yourself browsing a recipe for Ikea meatballs? That’s a hypertexts scenario; when user jumps from one site from another with the click of the mouse, forming a series of jumps. Where you are and how you got there may not be clear. “Research continues to show that people who read linear text comprehend more, remember more, and learn more than those who read text peppered with links.” (Carr 2011). Furthermore, reading on the screen gives you an ability to zoom, to scroll, to alter the size of the text, etc. It continues to change to fit the reader’s preference and it makes it harder to form a reliable visualisation of the content. It makes it harder for readers to find where they are while reading, because when you access it later on, you might not be in the same visual representation or preference as before. All of this matters, since “a good spatial mental representation of the physical layout of the text leads to better reading comprehension” (Greenfield 2015).

It is distracting to read on digital device

Readers may say that they are multitasking on their phones, but when those Facebook notifications are popping out, will they be able to ignore it and continue reading? Doubtful. They’ll just skim until they get the sense of what the article is about and then move on to check what’s going on in the group chat.

It’s making readers consume materials with lower level of reasoning

Print gave a sense of the whole (Baron 2015). In traditional printed books, readers (presumably) spend quite some time to reason and ponder the materials. With Hypertexts, they are eager to  jump around looking for the next readings, thus skimming happens. Search engines are not helping too. It makes us grow a habit to search for the specifics rather than reading to get the specifics, thus every time they are presented with a reading, they “search” for the specifics.

It’s hard to get a tactile experience on screen

Research says that the brain’s act of reading uses not just sight, but also the act of touch.  “The shift from paper to screen doesn’t just change the way we navigate a piece of writing. It also influences the degree of attention we devote to it and the depth of our immersion in it.” (Carr 2011). The physical aspect a book possess contributes to this psychological aspect, making readers sit and read, not just sit, search and skim

Finally, are publishers in fault of not getting the reader’s attention? Yes. Is it the reader’s fault for not giving the content more attention? Yes. Who’re to blame? Neither, because they are adapting to technology. How to solve this problem? Teach children to hold a physical book, flip through the pages and actually read.