I recently stumbled across an interesting opportunity for readers to have access more ebooks for free. Jellybooks is a website that helps publishers understand reader interests by collecting data on reader behavior. It works like this: a reader signs up for the program and gains access to free advance reading copies or simply free versions of ebooks. (Titles include general fiction like Micheal Deon’s The Foundling Boy, romances like Rachel Caine’s Devils Bargain, and crime novels like Lisa Lutz’s The Passenger.) In exchange, Jellybooks tracks how that reader interacts with books. This means that the company looks at how much of a book an individual reads and how long it takes a reader to finish a book (assuming he or she does finish it). The company also asks if the reader would recommend a book.
This program is for a very specific audience: people who don’t mind sharing how they read. I imagine the dissemination of this data seems very intrusive to many people. On the other hand, at least Jellybooks has provided full disclosure about what is happening to the data. Facebook and Google are much less open about what they do with user information.
Some authors have also expressed concern that data from businesses like Jellybooks could adversely influence how publishers treat books. Depending on the book, that may be true. If 80% of readers don’t make it past the first few chapters, that could be a sign that the book doesn’t have broad appeal, and publishers could market certain titles less. However, I doubt that this type of data will ever fully take the place of editorial and marketing departments in making those types of decisions. After all, classic or controversial books often lose many readers but maintain sales and renown. Think of the people who may be horrified by the raunchiness of Henry Miller; their rejection of his ideas would probably alter his data in a program like Jellybooks.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about programs like this one. I haven’t heard of publishers investigating reader behavior in quite this way before, and it engenders a lot of passionate emotions. Alternately, if you are already a Jellybooks user, please don’t hesitate to share your experience. I’m nosy and am interested in hearing more about how people have found the system.