Alexandra Alter writes for the Wall Street Journal about the kind of reading metadata publishers are able to collect for the first time in the history of reading.
In the past, publishers and authors had no way of knowing what happens when a reader sits down with a book. Does the reader quit after three pages, or finish it in a single sitting? Do most readers skip over the introduction, or read it closely, underlining passages and scrawling notes in the margins?
Today I don't really want to go into the discussion over whether it's acceptable that our reading habits are being collated like this, as I'm sure there are cases where you don't want anyone to know that you've repeatedly highlighted the raunchiest moments in 50 Shades of Grey (or, possibly, that you're even reading it at all). Alexandra's article focuses entirely on the benefits to authors, readers and publishers, and it's a fascinating new world:
Barnes & Noble has determined, through analyzing Nook data, that nonfiction books tend to be read in fits and starts, while novels are generally read straight through, and that nonfiction books, particularly long ones, tend to get dropped earlier. Science-fiction, romance and crime-fiction fans often read more books more quickly than readers of literary fiction do, and finish most of the books they start. Readers of literary fiction quit books more often and tend skip around between books.
There's even a really nifty company using Kindle's interactivity features to create a sort of choose-your-own-adventure novel, allowing readers to collectively decide plot directions and even protagonist appearance. That information is channelled back to authors to help them make decisions about future books.
A recent report from Coliloquy showed that the ideal hero for "Great Escapes" readers is tall with black hair and green eyes, a rugged, burly build and a moderately but not overly hairy chest.