Haven’t Finished Reading that Bestseller? You’re Not Alone

In Discussion by Dennis Abrams

Kobo has released data about how many people finish ebook bestsellers and data indicates that purchasing a book is no indication of willingness to read it.

By Dennis Abrams

The GoldfinchThe Guardian reports that while Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch may have won the Pulitzer Prize, it also appears to have “intimidated British readers,” since less than half those who purchased it from e-bookseller Kobo actually made it to the end of the book.

Indeed, even though The Goldfinch was the 37th bestselling eBook of the year for Kobo, data shows that only 44.4% of Kobo’s British readers finished it. Kobo speculated that it ‘likely proved daunting for some due to the length of the novel.”

And Tartt was not only the author whose book was left unfinished, a victim of readers’ unrealized ambitions. Solomon Northrop’s 1853 autobiography, Twelve Years a Slave, might have been the source for the award winning film, but according to Kobo, the book, while ninth on their British bestseller list, was completed by a paltry 28.2% of readers.

As The Guardian points out, digital reading means that Kobo (along with other eBook retailers) know exactly how their readers interact with their titles – not only which ones are never opened and which ones are finished, but how long it took readers to finish the book in the first place.

The paper reports that earlier this year, American mathematician Jordan Ellenberg proposed what he called the “Hawking Index” in a blog written for the Wall Street Journal, which used Amazon’s “Popular Highlights” feature to determine once and for all just how far readers were actually able to make into a given book, but “retailers have been reluctant to share the data they are harvesting themselves.” Kobo’s analysis, released this week, the paper writes, reveals “an unexpected divide between bestsellers, and the books that readers actually complete.”

According to The Guardian:

“After collecting data between January and November 2014 from more than 21m users, in countries including Canada, the US, the UK, France, Italy and the Netherlands, Kobo found that its most completed book of 2014 in the UK was not a Man Booker or Baileys prize winner. Instead, readers were most keen to finish Casey Kelleher’s self-published thriller Rotten to the Core, which doesn’t even feature on the overall bestseller list – although Kelleher has gone on to win a book deal with Amazon’s UK publishing imprint Thomas & Mercer after selling nearly 150,000 copies of her three self-published novels.

Rotten to The Core by Casey Kelleher was the most completed book in the UK, with 83% of people reading it cover to cover,” said Kobo, “whereas the number one bestselling eBook in the UK, One Cold Night by Katia Lief [also a thriller] was only completed by 69% of those who read it.”

Interestingly, on a UK eBook bestseller list that included novels from big names such as Gillian Flynn, John Green, James Patterson and Robert Galbraith, Kobo reported that “thriller powerhouse” James Patterson “was the most completed author in the UK for his entire portfolio of books.”

Michael Tamblyn, president and chief content officer at Kobo told The Guardian that, “A book’s position on the bestseller list may indicate it’s bought, but that isn’t the same as it being read or finished. A lot of readers have multiple novels on the go at any given time, which means they may not always read one book from start to finish before jumping into the next great story. People may wait days, months, or even until the following year to finish certain titles. And many exercise that inalienable reader’s right to set down a book if it doesn’t hold their interest.”

Also of interest: among genres, romance novels had the highest rate of completion among British readers at 62%, followed closely behind by crime and thrillers (61%) and fantasy (60%). Readers in Italy were also most likely to finish a romance novel (74% completion) while French readers went with mysteries at 70% completion.

To see Kobo’s complete UK Bestseller List as well as its list of the most completed novels, click here.

About the Author

Dennis Abrams

Dennis Abrams is a contributing editor for Publishing Perspectives, responsible for news, children's publishing and media. He's also a restaurant critic, literary blogger, and the author of "The Play's The Thing," a complete YA guide to the plays of William Shakespeare published by Pentian, as well as more than 30 YA biographies and histories for Chelsea House publishers.