Anyone can publish a book these days, and just about everyone does. But if the supply of writers is increasing at a velocity unknown in literary history, the supply of readers is not. That is making competition for attention rather fierce. One result: ceaseless self-promotion by eager beginners.
Another consequence is writers’ thirst for more data on how they are being read, so they can shape their books to please their readers more. This is something novelists have always done, using sources like fan mail, personal appearances, reviews and sales. Technology is starting to give them data that is much more precise, and thus potentially more helpful.
“If you write as a business, you have to sell books,” said Quinn Loftis, a very successful self-published writer for teenagers. “To do that, you have to cater to the market. I don’t want to write a novel because I want to write it. I want to write it because people will enjoy it.”
But my article last week outlining how the digital book subscription services Oyster and Scribd plan to collect and share data with writers like Ms. Loftis resulted in little enthusiasm, at least among potential readers. Nearly all the comments on the article expressed dismay about where the trend could go.