Tuesday, November 18, 2014

More of the Same

Your e-reader knows more about you than you might think. But will publishers use this information to introduce new books and authors you'll love, or will e-book ads simply pigeonhole readers into one genre? ♦

Does advertising terrify anyone else? You are casually watching TV, browsing the web, reading, or going about any other media-absorbing task, and before you realize what’s happening you find you really need to eat that hamburger or to buy those stairs for your tiny dog. (I will admit that second one might just be me.) Advertisements surround us at any given moment of any given day. We are bombarded with ploys to purchase and use just about anything anyone can dream up. Before the advent of the digital age, advertisements were tailored by location, TV channel, or radio station. However, now we have the internet—a web of potential personalization.
       Say you look up a pair of boots one day. Rather than just disappearing into your history never to be seen again, those boots haunt you. You see them wedged into the sides of websites you visit. You see them popping up when you begin to type something into a search engine. The boots will find you. All of this targeting of our browsing habits is for the express purpose of advertising directly to you and your tastes to lure you into purchasing. Everything you look up online becomes an ad targeted particularly for you.
       The question becomes, how do advertisers know what you are interested in? By tracking the websites you visit, the terms you search, and the data from your purchases, advertisers can target you with specific ads. Additionally, data you provide when setting up a social media profile, such as your favorite books and movies, can be used to create your digital footprint. Your choices become fodder for ad agencies to use in personalized advertising.
       With the arrival of e-readers, personalized advertising has infiltrated the literary marketplace in a brand new way. As a consumer’s purchasing habits change, so do the suggested titles on the homepage and e-book deals in emails. Do targeted advertisements benefit the consumer or the advertiser? Consumers are further exposed to e-books they would likely want to purchase, perhaps, which garners profits for the e-reader services and increases consumers’ personal libraries, which can always expand.
       Yet, after my recent introduction into the e-reader world, I realized that my book purchasing habits were actually changing. Rather than browsing through a whole bookstore, I found myself browsing through the sections the e-reader preselected for me, which meant I was reading the exact same type of book over and over again. All the books I was seeing, and then reading, were from the same genre or had similar themes. With a quick glance in my email, I found that over half of the emails from my e-reader service in the last month were specific to one particular genre. On one hand, this is great: we consumers can be kept up to date on what’s new and on sale and be exposed to new authors, all within the same comfortable genre.
         On the other hand, I’m beginning to feel like I‘ve been fit into a literary straightjacket.
       While shopping in a physical store, you have to walk by shelves and shelves of books you might not ever consider ever purchasing. A cover might stop you, or a title, or an author, and you pause to look at this book. But within the confines of e-reader advertising, you might not come across an informational text about the idea of dragons as seafaring dinosaurs. (I have no idea if an entire book on that actually exists, but if it does, someone send me a copy.) As you pause in front of a kiosk in a bookstore, you are utilizing a browsing factor that personalized advertisement can’t approximate.
       Part of reading is opening up to new ideas. Are personalized ads stymying the type of browsing and purchasing that opens up readers to new books, or is this article simply a rant to promote bookstores? While there is little research so far directly related to e-reader advertisements, e-book sellers are nevertheless compiling readers’ data on a scale that’s never been seen before. With e-readers, massive amounts of consumer information on reading and purchasing habits are suddenly available to booksellers. Now booksellers can even know how long a reader spends on each page of each book in each genre. The trend of personalized advertisements in bookselling can only grow with these additional insights into readers’ habits. But whether the end result will be connecting readers with authors and books they’ll likely love—based on the data and algorithms—or simply encouraging them to read more of the same, that remains to be seen.
  • About the Author
    Nicole Getson is generally a tea-drinking crazy cat lady with floor-to-ceiling shelves of fantasy novels. More specifically, she is a teacher by training, a painter by craft, and a writer by trade.

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