For most of its history, the book business has been resolutely old-fashioned. Until the media conglomeration movement of the ’80s and ’90s, they were basically family businesses. Only with the 2001 launch of point-of-sale tracker Nielsen BookScan did we begin to have concrete numbers on how many books were actually sold.
But today we find ourselves in the age of Big Data. Apparently, if we can quantify something, we should quantify it, and books and reading are no exception.
The term of art in this arena is “consumer analytics.” As reported in The New York Times, the new subscription reading services — the Netflixes for books such as Oyster and Scribd — are already making use of software that tracks reader behavior: how many people finish books they’ve started, or where, precisely, readers give up.