Sunday, March 13, 2016

Coming soon: the short, feeling free, all-male best-seller

Digital Book World:
Over the past couple months, Jellybooks has tested hundreds of books by embedding a piece of Javascript software called candy.js into ebook files. Readers received the ebooks free of charge in exchange for sharing their reading data with us and the publisher. The software recorded their reading data both online and off, and when the user clicked a button at the end of the chapter the data was uploaded. 
When users claimed their free ebook as part of the test reading trial, we asked them for their age and gender; this allowed us to examine whether these traits influenced their reading behavior. 
When it came to participating in the trials, far more women signed up than men. This is not a surprise: women account for more book purchases and books read than men do. In general, we recorded 20/80 male/female splits across test groups, though some books were noticeably more likely to be picked by men than others (up to five times more likely, in fact). 
What was more interesting to us, though, was whether the sub-group of men that read a book had the same completion rate as women. If a man decides to read a book, is he less likely or more likely than a woman to finish it? In other words, is the completion rate of a book at all gender-specific? 
In general, the result was a firm no. In most cases, the likelihood that a reader will finish a book is not correlated with gender; both sexes have an equal probability of finishing a book. Issues such as writing style, strength of characters, topic and other factors have a bigger influence on the completion rate. 
This holds true across non-fiction and literary fiction, including genre fiction like fantasy, science fiction and crime. Below is an example of a book by a Canadian author (Jellybooks test title #1048) that shows how men and women complete the book at near-equal rates (27 percent for male readers and 28 percent for female readers, which is not a statistically significant difference for sample of 400 test readers). 
There is one noticeable gender-specific difference in reading across most books, however, which is well-illustrated in the above example: men decide much faster than women do if they like a book or not. The initial decline during which most readers are lost is much sharper and earlier for men than it is for women, and this is a behavior that we observe for the majority of books (the above title also loses readers in the middle of the book, which is a rather rare occurrence). 
So put another way, men give up on a book much sooner than women do. 
Given the identical completion rates, we take this to mean that men either have more foresight in this regard or that women continue reading even if they already know that the book is not to their liking. We suspect the latter, but cannot prove it at this point. 
In an earlier post, I highlighted that authors need to capture the attention of readers quickly. What our demographic reading analysis shows is that, when it comes to men, an author has only 20-50 pages to capture their attention. No room for rambling introductions. The author needs to get to the point quickly, build suspense or otherwise capture the male reader, or he is gone, gone, gone. 
Now, there is in fact a noticeable exception to the rule of identical completion rates for men and women, as there is a type of book for which we observe significant differences between the sexes: books that deal with feelings. This includes books about emotions like grief, loss and love, but also books about relationships in general and romance in particular. 
Books that predominantly deal with these categories show noticeable differences in completion rates, which can vary from relatively small differences (5-10 percent fewer men finish the book) to very large difference, in which the completion rate for men is half the value or less than that for women. Not only do fewer men start reading these books, but those who do start reading them are more likely to give up on them than women are, irrespective of the quality of the content or the narrative. 
In such cases, it doesn’t matter if the author is male or female. Even male authors dealing with the above emotions will witness male readers being less engaged than women.

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