The Evolution Of Attention Metrics

Amazon’s Kindle Per-Page-Read Royalties

Amazon Kindle Per Page Read Royalties

Amazon has caused a bit of an uproar over its recent decision to change the formula by which they pay eBook authors royalties when someone checks out their book via the Kindle Lending Library or through the all-you-can-read Kindle Unlimited subscription service. The National Post offers one take with it’s The Tyranny Of The Metric article while TechCrunch published an explainer article detailing how Amazon was changing its royalties formula. In short:

  • Instead of paying authors when someone reads 10% of their book,
  • Amazon will pay based on a per-pages-read formula.

Keep in mind this change applies only to books checked out through Amazon’s lending program or its subscription service.  My podcast co-host BL Ochman and I disagreed on the topic during Episode 102 of the Beyond Social Media Show. Here’s the relevant segment:

As I pointed out during the show, this is hardly some huge precedent; it’s just a different flavor of more of the same. Those who control the publishing process (from newspapers to the HarperCollinses of the world) and those who command the audiences (from pulp fiction magazines to the Amazons of the world) have always set the terms for authors.

The publishers are in it to make money and the authors are in it to be read…and make some money. It’s the same as it ever was.

The Age Of Abundance

What is different is abundance.

  • The great thing about websites, is anyone can create one but the bad thing about websites, is anyone can create one.
  • The great thing about blogs, is anyone can publish one but the bad thing about blogs, is anyone can publish one.
  • The great thing about eBooks, is anyone can write and sell one but the bad thing about eBooks, is anyone can write and sell one.

This is the same old problem in a different form. While the democratization of technology has enabled wonderful voices that would not have been heard in another era, it also has the effect of flooding the market with a lot of schlock.

The Internet needs quality control. Amazon’s per-page-read royalties metric appears to be just such a measure. Part of the problem with the previous 10% formula was that some authors were writing shorter books and including fluffy, easy-to-flip-through pages so as to more easily reach the 10% mark.

There will likely be some gaming of the new formula but hopefully, the net result will be higher quality writing.

The Writer’s Obligation


The writer’s first obligation is to entertain. I use the word “entertain” broadly to mean, keep your reader’s attention. Whatever your topic–fiction or non-fiction–the writer’s obligation is to be a compelling enough storyteller to draw the reader to the literary finish line.

I am consistently and sadly shocked at the frequency with which I come across poor writing, created by people who are being paid to write.

Poor writing commands attention to itself, not the idea it is trying to express. If, through either a lack of skill or simple laziness, you force your reader to decipher the meaning you are trying to convey or you are simply not compelling, the reader will and should give up. Wasting the reader’s time by making them work to understand you betrays a lack of respect on the part of the writer.

If attention metrics like Amazon’s per-page-read formula can spotlight passages where readers drop off, it can serve as a tool to help improve a writer’s prose.


The Infancy Of Attention Metrics

We are currently in the infancy of the evolution of attention metrics.

Website Attention Metrics

Most web analytics services offer a time-on-page metric to measure attention to that page, usually calculated by measuring the time between pages (i.e. the start time between the current pageview and the start time of the next pageview). Google Analytics measures time-on-page by taking into account additional engagement metrics that demonstrate attention such as interactions such as clicking on a social sharing button or clicking a play button on a video (i.e. time between the initial pageview and the last engagement action). Read Justin Cutroni‘s Understanding Google Analytics Time Calcluations post for an in-depth explanation.

In January, Medium CEO Ev Williams declared Total Time Reading the blogging platform’s top metric.

Video Attention Metrics

YouTube provides attention metrics with uploaded videos in the form of Audience Retention metrics that calculate the views of every moment of the video as a percentage of the number of video views.  Here’s the relative audience retention report for my How To Tag Someone On Facebook screencast. You’ll notice that the point at which audience attention drops off is when I deliver on the promise of the headline. After people get what they need, they leave. I could’ve created a much shorter video and earned higher attention metrics as a result.

YouTube Audience Retention Screenshot

The band Coldplay built attention metrics into its interactive music video for the song Ink by allowing viewers to choose which plot line for the story they wished to follow.

Social Media Attention Metrics

Facebook is now factoring time on story metrics into its News Feed algorithm. because:

“…just because someone didn’t like, comment or share a story in their News Feed doesn’t mean it wasn’t meaningful to them. There are times when, for example, people want to see information about a serious current event, but don’t necessarily want to like or comment on it.”

 The social network understands:

“it’s not as simple as just measuring the number of seconds you spend on each story to understand if that piece of content resonated with you. Some people may spend ten seconds on a story because they really enjoy it, while others may spend ten seconds on a story because they have a slow internet connection. We’ve discovered that if people spend significantly more time on a particular story in News Feed than the majority of other stories they look at, this is a good sign that content was relevant to them.”

Here’s the Beyond Social Media Show segment where we talk about Facebook’s Time On Story metric:

eBook Attention Metrics

Attention metrics such as per-page-read royalties will give Amazon additional feedback as to what is popular…and among whom, a distinction that appears to be lost among those crying foul over this change in policy. Keep in mind that Amazon has an extensive database on its users, not just their purchases from the site (which is invaluable in and of itself) but also increasingly the type of content those customers consume in the form of music, movies, TV shows, and books.

If Amazon were to provide rich eBook analytics beyond simple per-page-read metrics but also include audience demographics, psychographics, and technographics, authors would have some powerful tools at their disposal to understand how their work is received by targeted audiences.

The Future Of Attention Metrics

Website Session Recordings

I am a big fan of services like ClickTale, which record actual website sessions by individual visitors via cursor movements. This type of technology is the short-term future of attention metrics.

Since people tend to focus their attention wherever they put their cursor, it’s a pretty good proxy for eye-tracking and a more precise measure of attention than the previous metrics we’ve discussed. Yet it remains just that: A proxy.

Eye-Tracking Technology

Existing technology that comes closest to capturing true attention metrics is the practice of eye-tracking.

Google Glass

I had very high hopes for Google Glass as you can see from this 2013 webcast I recorded about the product. What Google Glass had going for it was the two sets of cameras, one set pointing out at the real world and another set watching your eyes, i.e. watching what you watch. What Glass had going against it was The Dork Factor, Glass Explorers as well as those around them felt too self-conscious about the fact that everything could be recorded.

Affordable Eye-Tracking Technology

Performing eye-tracking used to be fairly expensive but affordable options are now available. The Eye Tribe is one such option, a $99 piece of hardware you set up on a laptop to capture eye movements while a subject looks at whatever is on screen. The product comes with a software development kit to enable eye-controlled applications.

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