Reading Fun

Big Brother is Watching . . er, Reading Over Your Shoulder

About three years ago, I had to take a trip for work. I would be gone for ten days with a group of colleagues I had never met before. In a foreign country. Packing lots of books seemed like a good idea.

But I read very fast. And I didn’t want to have to pack a dozen books, so I picked up a Kindle. And, like many people, I fell in love. I didn’t think I would. There’s something comforting about holding a traditional book. Nonetheless, it was great. I even forgot it was a Kindle at times, placing it face down, to hold my page. 🙂

I noticed when reading e-books that certain phrases were highlighted. There’d be a fuzzy grey line underneath a sentence or two and a tag saying something along the line of 237 highlights. I never gave it a thought. Never even wondered what it meant.

Then I read the Wall Street Journal article by Alexandra Alter entitled “You’re E-Book is Reading You.” Alter explained how the Kindle is used to as a marketing tool for authors, publishers, etc. So the number of times a certain phrase is highlighted is tracked. (

But more information than that is gathered. Where the reader stops reading, how long a reader sits, do they finish the book in one sitting, three, not at all?

When I first read the article, I had two simultaneous reactions: ‘That’s cool’ and ‘That’s kind of creepy’. Let’s start with the creepy. The idea that someone is tracking my reading habits smacks of an Orwellian world. Big brother reading over my shoulder. Shudder.

But as an aspiring author and data junkie, I love the idea of being able to ascertain trends and facts that can help market books. There’s no denying that e-books have revolutionized reading. Traditional publishers are now taking this data and putting it to work for them. Self published authors need to do the same. Now I’m not saying people should massively change their novels. But they should consider, at the very least, readers preferences in their marketing strategies. I talked about those preferences a few blogs ago. (See Size Does Matter . . . Even for Books!)

So what do you think? Creepy or Helpful? Or maybe a little bit of both?


4 thoughts on “Big Brother is Watching . . er, Reading Over Your Shoulder”

  1. When I first encountered this in my early experience with Kindle books, I didn’t have a strong reaction, either positive or negative. I simply found it interesting to learn what other readers found memorable enough to mark for future reference.

    This is not, however, my primary motivation in highlighting or making notes. A few years ago I started doing beta reading and some copy-editing/proofreading for several Indie authors. Lately, I’ve taken to highlighting any error I find (grammar, spelling, punctuation, formatting, etc) whether or not I have any contact with the author. I use the note function to record my thoughts, feelings, or suspicions about content. If an author is interested in my input, I send my marked-up .mobi file to him or her.

    In addition, I make notes of things I want to research later. I used to do the research while reading a book, but now I simply make a note to “Check” later for accuracy, clarification, or to merely learn more about a topic that intrigues me. There have been instances in which an author will make a statement or, for example, give a physical description of a prehistoric creature that is scientifically inaccurate. It drives me nuts if techno-thrillers or archeology thrillers include bad science, portraying something as real when it is actually made up or inadequately researched.

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