Tech Desk

From the Tech Desk

Nifty Service Allows Readers to Sample eBooks Before Buying Them

One of the privileges that we as readers have really lost in eBook age is the ability to pull a book off a shelf at a library or bookstore, read the back cover copy or book flap for a basic synopsis, and then dive right into the first chapter to see if it grabs us. While it's sometimes easy to tell if you will enjoy a book based on word of mouth, buzzy reviews, or an intriguing bit of back cover copy, it's also entirely possible that those items will only raise your expectations to the point where you will be disappointed by the actual book. What sounds intriguing to you in a plot description might not translate to a book you want to read, whether because of writing style you don't enjoy, extremely slow plotting, excessive exposition, irritating characters, or any number of other characteristics. It helps, in other words, to actually read a bit of the book itself before deciding whether or not to commit fully.

Jellybooks, a web-based reading start-up, takes all of the above into account. Crafted for readers who want to sample their eBooks before purchasing them—just like bookstores and libraries have allowed for years—Jellybooks markets itself as the publishing equivalent of a candy store. Readers can download ePub samples of every book on the Jellybooks website for free, without even having to register for an account. With an account, users get extra features, like a cloud-based reader that allows them to check out Jellybooks titles right on their web browser.

The attractive and simplistic layout of Jellybooks should feel familiar to those who have tried out other web-based eBook services, like Scribd or Oyster. The books are laid out in an eye-catching library-like fashion, with full-colored thumbnails of each cover appearing on an endless scroll page. The page will display all titles by default, but can be customized to just show novels, non-fiction texts, romance books, or crime-related titles using handy buttons at the top of the page. When you see a book that catches your eye, you can click on it to read a synopsis, download the free ePub sample, share with friends, or purchase the full eBook. A number of trusted retailers—including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Waterstone's, Foyles, and Book Depository—are given as options, with the latter three indicating the service's United Kingdom roots.

At this point, Jellybooks has been around for a few years. The U.K.-based startup went live in 2012, and has only continued to grow—in terms of library, reach, influence, and more—in the three years since. Last year, the company added new tools for authors to its site, making it easier for independent writers to promote their books through the service. (Tools already existed for agents and publishers to use Jellybooks to their benefit.) Many of the author tools are particularly useful, including book widgets that can be placed on websites or blogs, opportunities for Pinterest and Twitter integration, an audience engagement dashboard, and more.

These tools exist, in some format, on other sites or from other services, but Jellybooks is unique in that you aren't necessarily monitoring who is reading your book, but rather who is showing interest in your book. Since Jellybooks is primarily a discovery tool, the app can give authors and publishers insight into how well their books draw readers in between cover design, title, synopsis, and the quality or pacing of sampled chapters. Granted, tweaking each of these factors in an effort to improve reader engagement could prove to be a tedious bit of trial and error, but the information is useful (and usable) nonetheless.

According to a Digital Book World article written by Andrew Rhomberg—the owner and CEO of Jellybooks—the company has recently been branching out even further. The article, titled "What Code Is Revealing About Readers," discusses a piece of code developed by Jellybooks (candy.js) that supposedly "tracks how users actually read." Attached to an eBook file via javascript, the candy.js code collects data and analytics about each individual reader and how they interact with a specific book. What time of day is a person reading this title? How long does it take for them to turn a page or complete a chapter? Are they abandoning the book mid-chapter, or are they reading it all the way through and in one sitting? Are readers discussing their books on social media? How about reviewing them on Goodreads? Supposedly, candy.js can tell authors and publishers all of this information and more.

These extra details make Jellybooks sound like an ideal partner to help authors and publishers better understand their readers. But there are still a few questions to consider here. Already, some upset eBook consumers have described the candy.js algorithm as "eBook spyware," and the questionable privacy implications of the coding do certainly need to be considered before it is implemented across a wide range of products. Furthermore, it's unclear exactly what kind of company Jellybooks wants to be at this point: an online eBook sampling service, or an eBook analytics firm? However, if Rhomberg and his team can figure out how to be both—in a way that is ethical and fair toward readers, of course—then Jellybooks could become an essential tool for both the consumers and content creators of the publishing world.

Interested in learning more about Jellybooks? Visit the company's website, at


Craig Manning is currently studying English and Music at Western Michigan University. In addition to writing for, he maintains a pair of entertainment blogs, interns at the Traverse City Business News, and writes for and his college newspaper. He welcomes comments or questions concerning his articles via email, at