Data Driven eBooks

The more I read and learn about writing and publishing the more I’m convinced that we are still at the very early stages of incredible change in Reading eBook on Kindlethis sector. There is little doubt that printed book sales continue their decline and indications are that eBooks outsell their printed counterparts by two to one in the US. In the UK Kindle ebook sales have overtaken Amazon print sales, yet, Print Is Still the Dominant Format for Canadians, Says New BookNet Canada Study.

How long is it until eBooks fully, or at least mostly displace print? – Some analysts are predicting that eBooks will constitute 75% of book sales by 2025.

There seems to be a special case for text and reference books where rental and eBook Sales are eroding new textbook sales, no doubt stimulated if not primarily driven by Amazon’s Textbook Rental plan. Although Amazon are upsetting publishers with their lending program, allowing users to lend their books to friends, thereby denying rights-owners their sales and revenue, its a popular program with consumers, particularly the cash-strapped student market.

But what does all this mean for a writer, particularly someone who intends to self-publish their work, or for current authors with their works already in the pipeline? Should they go it alone and risk obscurity, or should they embrace the major retailer model and potentially be exploited for minimal gain?

Authors and self publisher ignoring the eBooks phenomena will do so at their peril if the statistics in Jane Friedman’s blog post entitled eBook Statistics For Authors to Watch are to be believed. But fully embracing the Amazon retail model may not be in the best interest of independents, as a monopolistic market evolves, both the consumers and suppliers are likely to suffer.

…we suggest that there is some evidence that Amazon may have a commercial policy of creating a closed system through which it can perpetuate or strengthen its market position in the sale of books.  — Booksellers Association of the United Kingdom & Ireland. 

It depends of course on the type of book being produced, but I can see a hybrid model evolving, particularly in the non-fiction sector. Independent authors and self-publisher can leverage the exposure and reach of major online retailers like Amazon to sell low value introductory versions of their products, while using that product to bring readers directly to their own sites for up-selling and providing premium content. products or services.

This is alluded to by James Levy, CEO and Founder of Hiptype in an interview he gave with Joe Wikert from the O’Reilly Tools of Change hiptype_logoConference. I’ve shared that interview at the end of this article. Hiptype describes itself as a platform for data-driven book publishing. Levy points out that the data provided by major online retailers is minimal and doesn’t allow the publisher to understand much about who is reading their book, other than some rudimentary sales or download data. He goes on to describe how Hiptype is interested in what he calls the “DNA of the successful Book”. Their platform allows publishers to collect anonymous data about their book in the hands of purchasers and readers and allows you to understand and interpret these data. Some insights that Hiptype have been able to ascertain are:

  • Sharing — The ability to highlight and share thoughts about passages from a book with others is an important ‘social’ aspect of eBooks. Hiptype shows that the majority of content sharing takes place in either the first 10 pages or the last 10 pages of the book.
  • Importance of the first 50 pages — Nearly one third of readers won’t return to the eBook by page 50, but 85% of readers who do get to page 50 are likely to read the next 50 pages. So what does this say for typical eBook samples that consist of just 10 or 12 pages?
  • Sample Conversion— A mere 4% of all samples downloaded are ever read at all.

Hiptype can also aggregate other demographic information like age, gender, likes etc. providing publishers and authors valuable feedback that isn’t otherwise easily available.

But before you get too excited, as of writing this article, Hiptype have suspended their service as explained on their blog at –

While we’re sad to shutdown Hiptype in its current form, we couldn’t be more excited about the new home we have found for the service. We’ll be announcing details shortly.

Not an uncommon tactic for a startup of this nature to allow them to pivot and scale to their next iteration and I look forward to their return. Learn more about Hiptype at:

In the meantime, I’m interested to learn more about the DNA of successful books and what independent publishers are planning to do to get their books into the hands of readers and get adequately compensated for their efforts. Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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