And on the whole, I agree. Sites such as Goodreads thrive on people wanting to share their reading content, and if Amazon wants to shove more dystopian novels my way, based on the fact that I downloaded (and devoured) Insurgent, Blood Red Road, and Drowned Cities, more power to them. They'd do that whether I bought an e-book or the physical book, anyway, and I have the power of "No" in my control.
But here's what pulled me up short:
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.
Those insights are already shaping the types of books that Barnes & Noble sells on its Nook (emphasis mine).
That's a big deal, and we should all be concerned.
Similarly, there is a finite number of 1) eBook platforms and 2) large booksellers. Do you really want B&N or Amazon deciding that, because most people who buy China: A New History fail to finish it, that it's not worthwhile offering, or only watered-down (i.e. shorter, article length) versions? Because once booksellers start doing that, publishers will stop printing them in the first place. Maybe I only needed a few chapters for whatever research I was doing. That doesn't mean the book isn't valuable.
And the English teacher in me just cringed at this.
Publishers already know that more people would rather read John Grisham than John Barth. Heck, so would I! Audience testing vs. literary value isn't the point--even Shakespeare changed the endings of plays based on audience reactions (according to on my English profs, anyway). And, personally, contrary to Jonathan Galassi in the article, War and Peace could do with a little shortening based on audience drop-off rates.
The question is, do we really want that kind of detailed data driving both a) what publishers will publish and b) what authors write? They need to make a living after all, so it's not like most of them are going to ignore this.
Furthermore, it's not necessarily even good data. Case in point: Over spring break this year, I went to Thailand and took my Kindle. I started reading Ken Follett's (vastly over-rated!) Pillars of the Earth. It's a hefty tome. I got about halfway through it on vacation, returned to school and finished reading it using the book from the library. As far as Amazon is concerned, I never finished the book. I can see someone, somewhere, deciding that lengthy fiction just isn't what people want. Good-bye George R.R. Martin.
I read somewhere that the answer is turning off the wireless and loading books via computer downloads. I may start doing that. Most people won't, though, so the issue remains: we don't want publishing decisions made ONLY on what's going to be #1 on the bestseller lists. That means booksellers need to be willing to stock books "just because," regardless of whether readers ever finish the thing.
Actually, I think this is another reason to just get rid of publishers and bookstores as the middle-man between authors and the reading public. It's not going to happen anytime soon, but more authors are experimenting with publishing directly. It dramatically reduces the cost of a book, while simultaneously increasing the writer's (rather than the publisher's) profits. Its' win-win.
Of course, currently that mostly works only if an author has already established a name for him/herself. It's where we're heading, though.