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Big E—reader Is Watching You 电子书也在“读”你

原文作者:陈亦舒

  big brother1), wrote george orwell in nineteen eighty-four, is watching you. would orwell have been amused or disturbed by the development that big brother now knows exactly how long it takes readers to finish his novel, which parts they might have highlighted, and what they went on to pick up next?
   because your e-book is now reading you right back. your e-reader knows how long it took you to finish a game of thrones2), where you stopped reading wolf hall3), how many pages of fifty shades of grey4) you read an hour. it knows what you’ve highlighted or bookmarked: a passage from the hunger games trilogy5), “because sometimes things happen to people and they’re not equipped to deal with them,” is the most highlighted of all time on amazon’s kindle, marked down by 17,784 users. as the e-book market continues to mushroom, reaching ?92m in the uk in 2011, this data is becoming significant enough for publishers—who until now have only known how many copies of a book they sell, not how that book is actually read—to take an interest.[论文网]
   “with digital content we have the ability all of a sudden to glean6) new insights into our customers,” says todd humphrey, kobo7)’s executive vice president of business development. “how often do they pick up and engage with a book? what’s the average time when they start to read? how many pages do they read an hour? how long does it take to read a book? and through bookmarking, people tell us where they stop. if we were to dive into that reader space, we could see they picked up a book, read the first five pages in five hours, then never picked up and engaged with the book again. what does that say, if 90% of readers stop after chapter five? it certainly provides insight for the publisher and the author.”
   small american press coliloquy, which calls itself a digital publisher of active fiction, is one organisation that is keen to make the most of these new insights. its e-books offer a “choose your own adventure” format, allowing readers to choose where their heroes and heroines end up, vote for their choices or personalise content, with their decisions feeding through to influence future storylines.
   “some days you’re just really tired of a stupid heroine who makes the wrong choices—so you want her to make the right one tonight,” says co-founder and chief executive lisa rutherford. so in tawna fenske’s romantic comedy getting dumped, the reader gets to decide which of three men the heroine jj calls. “you get to read different love scenes depending on who she chooses,” says rutherford. “then tawna can see the aggregated, anonymous data, and use it to see which character should play a major role in the next book in the series. none of us particularly cared for her character daniel, but he was chosen by an enormous amount of readers, which really made her think about him differe

ntly going forwards. you can’t ignore a third of your readers.”

 “it’s absolutely true that there is practically no market research done in terms of readers,” says the carnegie medal8)-winning british children’s author melvin burgess9). “i’d be fascinated to see how people read my books, who’s reading them, when they’re reading them.”
   but there “is a danger,” says burgess, that “you just start responding all the time” to what readers want. “storytelling isn’t interactive, really—you are taking the lead. so i’d love to know how people are reading my books, but i wouldn’t necessarily take any account of it.”
   award-winning author china miéville10) feels similarly. “i hope it wouldn’t change how i wrote, but conversely i do wonder if getting specifically worked up11) about this is simply a kind of neophobia, because if it did change how you wrote, wouldn’t it just be a new variant of what authors have done for centuries, which is writing to a market?” he says. “in other words, that writing to algorithm, while i’m certainly no fan, is just writing to what one believes readers want—no more or less infra dig12) than writing in response to demands from the marketing department, or in response to one’s analysis on perusing13) the bestseller list, or trying to second-guess what makes a bestseller. a bit more micro-level in its analysis, but not qualitatively ‘worse’ or ‘better.’”
   the “one very different thing” here, says miéville, is reader privacy, which he calls “a real issue.” burgess agrees. “i’d love to know what my readers are up to but i don’t like the way social media do it all behind your back,” he says.
   “we are just starting out on this and we want to be cautious on privacy,” says humphrey at kobo. “we want to understand how people are engaging in the content, but not to cross the line where we are sharing information about their reading habits which they wouldn’t approve of. so we are looking in bulk—at a particular book or genre—and feeding that back to publishers.”
   and if a reader doesn’t want to share details of how they read with kobo, they are able to go offline and refrain from note-taking. “we get data when people are using the server and have been reading a certain book. if someone wants to read a book, we will know if they purchased it. if they don’t bookmark, and they’re not online when they’re reading, and they’re not taking notes, we’re not going to glean much information except for the purchase itself,” humphrey says. “we do have people tell us that what they love about kobo is that they can sit on the subway and no one knows what they’re reading—it does provide some element of privacy. but at the same time we will know they purchased the book. you don’t have to post passages, either—we are providing people with the ability to share. if someone just wants to be a customer who buys a book, they can.”

  knowing which passages prompt a book to be thrown aside, whi

ch books are read at high speed and which are dipped in and out of is likely to be even more useful, and humphrey believes this knowledge could eventually affect what’s published.
   “you can understand what books are selling, where in the world, how fast people are reading them, how long it takes them to finish, where they accelerate or decelerate through a book—all of that at the end provides the publisher with pretty interesting insights to work with the author, on the style of the book and the story, and from a publishing perspective how to market based on where it is selling. at the end of the day14), it does allow publishers more information than they would have if they just put the book on a shelf,” he says. “it is going to be interesting to watch how it evolves over time. it is more power to the people who are essentially telling publishers and authors what it is they want to read.”
   back to orwell. nineteen eighty-four, says amazon, is the 608th most-highlighted book it sells. “‘who controls the past,’ ran the party slogan, ‘controls the future; who controls the present controls the past’” has been marked by 349 kindle users, while “if you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever” has been highlighted by 195. what would orwell have said?
   乔治·奥威尔在小说《一九八四》中写道:“老大哥”在看着你。wWw.11665.com现在,“老大哥”不仅准确地知道读者多长时间可以看完奥威尔的小说,知道读者重点标记了小说的哪些部分,还知道读者接下来要看什么书。对于这种发展,奥威尔是会觉得好玩呢,还是不安?
   因为现在你的电子书也在读你。你的电子阅读器知道你读完《冰与火之歌:权利的游戏》花了多长时间,知道你阅读《狼厅》时在哪里停了下来,知道你读《五十度灰》时每小时读多少页。它还知道你在哪里做了“高亮”标记,在哪里放了书签。“因为有时候事情会突然降临到人们身上,而他们没有准备好如何应对。”这句话出自《饥饿游戏》三部曲,是亚马逊的kindle阅读器上有史以来“高亮”标记最多的一句话,有17,784位用户进行了标记。2011年,英国的电子书市场销售额达到9200万英镑,随着电子书市场的继续繁荣,这些数据正变得越来越重要,足以让出版商产生兴趣。在此之前,出版商仅仅知道一本书卖了多少册,却不知道读者是如何阅读这本书的。
   “有了数字内容,我们一下子就有能力搜集关于顾客的新信息了,”kobo公司负责业务发展的执行副总裁托德·汉弗莱说,“他们每隔多久会拿起一本书来读?他们通常什么时间开始阅读?他们一个小时可以读多少页?读完一本书需要多长时间?通过放置书签,用户也告诉我们他们在哪里停止了阅读。如果我们潜入读者的空间,我们可能会看到他们拿起一本书,用五个小时读完前五页,然后就再也没有拿起那本书来看了。如果90%的读者在第五章后都不再往下读了,那这意味着什么?这无疑为出版商和作者提供了洞见。”
   美国小型出版社coliloquy自称是“动态小说”的电子出版商,是热衷于最大限度地利用这些新洞见的一个组织。它出版的电子书提供了一种形式,即“选择你自己的奇遇”,允许读者选择男女主人公最终以什么样的命运收场,为他们的选择投票,或是将书的内容个性化。他们的决定直接影响到未来故事情节的发展。
   “有些时候你只是真的厌倦了一个老是做出错误选择的愚蠢的女主角,因此你想让她今晚做出正确的选择。”coliloquy的共同创始人及首席执行官莉萨·拉瑟福德说道。于是在托娜·芬斯克的浪漫喜剧小说《抛弃》中,读者可以决定女主角jj给三个男人中的哪一个打电话。“根据她的不同选择,你可以读到不同的爱情场景,”拉瑟福德说,“然后托娜就能看到汇总的匿名数据,以此决定在该系列的下一部书中哪个人物应该成为主角。本来我们没有人特别关注丹尼尔这个角色,但是他却受到了很多读者的青睐,这的确会让托娜在后面的写作中对这个角色有不同的考虑。你无法忽略你三分之一的读者的意见。”

  “现在基本没有针对读者的市场调查,这是千真万确的,”获得卡耐基文学奖的英国儿童作家梅尔文·伯吉斯说,“我很有兴趣知道人们如何读我的书,哪些人在读,以及他们什么时候读。”
   但是有“一个风险”,伯吉斯说,那就是“你开始没完没了地回应”读者的需要。“写小说其实并不是互动的过程,而是你在起引领作用。所以,我很愿意知道人们如何读我的书,但我未必要顾及这些。”
   获奖作家柴纳·米耶维尔也有类似感受。“我希望这不会改变我的写作方式,但反过来我确实想知道对此大动肝火是否仅仅出于对新事物的一种恐惧。因为如果这真的改变了你的写作方式,那它不就是几个世纪以来许多作家都在做的事——为迎合市场而写作吗?只是一种新的变体罢了,”他说,“换句话说,根据计算机程序的算法来写作——对此我肯定不赞同——不过是根据人们所认为的读者的需要来写作。这种做法与根据营销部门的要求来写作,或是根据对畅销榜的研读分析来写作,或是揣摩如何写出一本畅销书,一样有失身份。它的分析更加微观,但从性质上来说并没有更高尚或更卑劣。”
   米耶维尔说,这其中“非常不寻常的一点”在于读者的隐私问题,他称之为“一个真正的问题”。伯吉斯也认同这一点。“我愿意

知道我的读者在想什么,但我不喜欢社交媒体那种在人背后监视的方式。”他说。
   “我们刚刚着手这么做,并且我们希望在隐私问题上小心谨慎,”kobo公司的汉弗莱说,“我们想知道人们如何被书中内容所吸引,但我们不想做得太过分,在他们不赞成的情况下分享他们阅读习惯方面的信息。所以我们看的是整体——某本书或某种体裁——然后将信息反馈给出版商。”
   如果读者不想将他们阅读的详细情况分享给kobo,他们可以下线阅读,避免使用笔记功能。“当人们使用服务器并一直在读某本书的时候,我们可以获得数据。如果有人想读一本书,我们可以知道他们是否买了这本书。如果他们不使用书签,不在线阅读,不做笔记,那我们除了购买信息本身外获取不到太多信息,”汉弗莱说,“确实有人告诉我们,他们喜欢kobo是因为他们可以坐在地铁里阅读,而没有人知道他们在读什么——它的确提供了一些隐私保护,但同时我们也知道他们买了正在读的那本书。你也并非一定要发帖子,我们为用户提供了共享的功能。如果某人只想当一位购书的顾客,那也可以。”
   哪些段落促使一本书被扔在一旁,哪些书被迅速读完,哪些书被不时地翻开又放下——知道这些信息可能有更大的用途。汉弗莱相信这些信息最终会影响到出版社出版什么样的书。
   “你可以了解到哪些书正在出售,在世界什么地方出售,人们读书的速度如何,读完一本书用多长时间,读书时在哪里加快速度又在哪里放慢速度——所有这些信息最终为出版商提供了有趣的见解,供他们与作者讨论合作,包括书的风格、故事的风格,以及从出版的角度看如何基于销售地点进行营销。总而言之,比起仅仅把书放在书架上销售来说,这样确实可以使出版商得到更多信息,”他说,“关注它如何随着时间发展将会非常有趣。读者被赋予了更大的力量,从根本上说,是他们在告诉出版商和作者他们想读什么样的书。”
   回到奥威尔。根据亚马逊的统计,在其销售的获得最多“高亮”标记的图书中,《一九八四》处于第608位。“党的口号是,‘谁控制过去,谁就控制未来;谁控制现在,谁就控制过去。’”书中这句话被349位kindle用户做了“高亮”标记。而“如果你想知道未来长什么样,那就想象一只靴子踩在人的脸上——永远”这句话被195人做了“高亮”标记。对此,奥威尔会作何评价?
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