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Book Publishers Might Be Spying on You

August 15, 2016
(image via wikimedia)

(image via wikimedia)

The world doesn’t need more ways to spy on normal people.  Governments spy on us.  Tech companies and corporations spy on us.  Pervert neighbors with drones spy on us.  This spying is called data collection now, but it’s still spying.  Even the publishing industry is in on it.

Book publishers have a good reason to spy from their point of view.  They want to accumulate book readers’ data to predict what future books will sell. For example, whenever I read an ebook on my Kindle app, I know Amazon is collecting the data and putting it into algorithms.

Amazon then recommends books to me using the algorithm, but the algorithm isn’t very good because I rarely want to read the books Amazon recommends.  Most of the recommended books are by the author whose book I’ve just finished reading or a book about the same topic or from the same genre, but I rarely want to read the same author, topic, or genre again for a while.

I don’t mean to sound paranoid (which means I probably sound paranoid), but book publishers might be spying on us without us even knowing about it.  When I skim through a book at B&M Booksellers, a camera COULD be watching me, logging each page that I turn, tracking which books I read, which books I buy, and which books I then check on my Amazon app.  It might be unlikely, but it could happen.  I don’t have proof, and that’s what makes it paranoia.

The book publishers are spying on us… “for our own good.”  They just want to… “help”… us by providing us with the books we want to read.  And if the book publishers happen to make a little money, that’s a bonus.  Whenever a powerful entity like government or a corporation (or a parent) tells us it’s “for our own good,” I get paranoid again.

Spying on me while I read would be pretty boring.  Reaction videos are popular on YouTube, but reactions while reading a book would be dull, at least if I were the focus.  Even when a book excites me, I just stare blankly at the pages.  Staring vacantly is my excited look when I’m reading.  If I curse or fidget or say funny stuff while I’m reading, that means the book sucks, and I’m probably very entertaining, but I still don’t want to be watched.

Not all spying makes me paranoid though.  Websites like Jellybooks allows consumers to read ebooks for free so that publishers can track reading habits.  If an entity is upfront about spying, then it’s not really spying, and that can decrease the paranoia (but nothing truly gets rid of it).

Publishers have learned so far that most people don’t get to the halfway point of most free books.  That makes sense.  If I have a free book, I don’t mind not finishing it.  If I purchased a book, I’m more likely to complete it because I spent my own money on it.  I have a financial stake in finishing it and not finishing it.

If books are free, I might not mind if a publisher spies on my reading habits.  But I’d get ticked off if I paid for a book and still got spied on.  If I pay for something, I shouldn’t get spied on.  The cash (or credit) should buy my privacy.  It’s not that I have anything to hide.  It’s just that most stuff is nobody else’s business.

Once I buy a book, it’s not the publisher’s business to know how much I read.  If it’s on Amazon Kindle Unlimited, it’s Amazon’s business because their payment to authors depends on how many pages of each book gets read.  But if I buy an entire book, then it’s my business.

I feel the same way about government and taxes.  If I pay taxes, then the government shouldn’t get to spy on me.  In fact, if I pay taxes, I should get to spy on the government.  I bet more people would be willing to pay taxes if that meant they could spy on government officials.  In fact, I’d be willing to let book publishers spy on me while I’m reading their books if I could spy on them while they’re deciding what books to publish.

To be honest, I wouldn’t spy on people even if I were allowed to. I’m a writer.  I don’t want to watch people just to collect data.  I watch people so I can write books and make up stories.  And you don’t need to be a spy to do that.


Speaking of books, here is one of mine.   Just so you know, Amazon might spy on you, but I won’t.

  1. I read a piece of your crap. It was pretty good shit. Oops now I’ll have to get my mouth washed out with Ivory again!

  2. I don’t see it as spying. Way back many years ago I used to frequent a SF/F bookstore where the owner worked hard to know his customers. He learned what we liked and recommended new books based on what he’d seen of our buying habits. (As I recall, he’s the one who recommended Tim Powers’ “The Anubis Gates” to me.)

    Amazon and other retailers simply work to automate this process.

  3. This is hilarious. I like the idea about spying on the government officials if people pay taxes. We could do with such a facility in our kind of countries. 🙂

  4. I do much of my book buying online (but not Amazon) so chances are I am being monitored . . .

  5. My solution is to buy books in thrift stores and garage sales.

  6. I don’t think they can be very good at it. Amazon asked me how I liked one of the books I purchased from them. It was my own book.

  7. David Walby permalink

    I wish a publisher would so some intrest in me, I am a writer.

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