Last week, I wrote about the Wall Street Journal article on gathering metrics on the ebook reading public’s preferences. The metrics are so fine-grained that a publisher can tell how fast a reader zips through any particular chapter. To me, that’s an invasion of privacy. But it doesn’t stop there. Further down in the article, the WSJ says that:
Sourcebooks has released early online editions for half a dozen titles, ranging from romance to young adult to nonfiction books, and has solicited questions and suggestions from readers. Eventually, readers’ feedback will be incorporated into the print version.
David Levithan, Scholastic’s publisher and editorial director, says the online feedback has shaped the ongoing “39 Clues” series and helped to turn it into a global franchise with more than 15 million copies in print.
Coliloquy’s digital books, which are available on Kindle, Nook and Android e-readers, have a “choose-your-own-adventure”-style format, allowing readers to customize characters and plot lines. The company’s engineers aggregate and pool the data gleaned from readers’ selections and send it to the authors, who can adjust story lines in their next books to reflect popular choices.
I find those three pieces of information to be far more insidious than recording how long it took me to read a particular title.
I may be in the vast minority here, but when I sit down to write a book, I don’t think of what will be the “popular choice”. In fact, I’m more likely to wonder what the “popular choice” is and then write the opposite. Why? Because, as I’ve stated in other posts, I like shaking things up a bit. I have a few…mottoes in my life. One of them is, “There is always a loophole”. Another is “If you’re working for yourself, it’s called ‘integrity’; if you’re working for someone else, it’s called an ‘attitude problem’”. The third, one particularly pertinent to this topic, is “You can tell the worth of a person by their failures”.
So many (too many!) people put stock in “success”. But what does success actually teach you? Does coming first all the time help you hone your weaknesses, fine-tune your performance? Who has the greater motivation to win? The person who always comes first…or the one who always comes second?
What I’m trying to say is, always having your own views pandered to is not a good thing. It doesn’t teach you to embrace new possibilities or open your mind to a new perspective. It doesn’t get you off your mental butt, exercising your dormant neurons.
Writing books based on online popularity polls seems to me to be a very poor way to treat literature. It turns us into mental couch potatoes, munching our way through disposable packets of prose, content to drift into soporific mediocrity because nothing is going to come along to disturb us.
Is that what we are as human beings? Is this what we strive for? Utter predictability in our entertainment? And if it is, then I’m completely in the wrong business.