Reading the Readers: Publishing and Big Data


How (and what) publishers are learning from the way we read

Book publishers, like any customer facing business, market their product to sell. In regards to results, it would seem that the sale would be the only indicator of how effective that marketing campaign had been. Indeed, for many years publishers have taken book sales as the end-all and be-all of how well a book was received by the public. On the surface there does seem to be a direct correlation; after all, why else would so many people buy a book if they weren’t enjoying it? In fact, the very nature of the printed book has limited publishers from knowing much beyond sales numbers. Short of going door-to-door and asking people how they felt about this chapter or that, there was really no way of quantifying how readers were responding to the book.

With the advent of e-books and readers, however, attitudes about what data is important are changing. While still taking sales numbers into account, publishers are beginning to take  a look at engagement numbers, or how the reader is responding to the text. That data can come in many forms, from the percentage of the book that a person has read, at what point she stopped reading, and even if she bothered to open the book at all.

But what is the point of having all these numbers after the sale? After all, a book sold is a book sold, regardless of how people react to it, right? The answer, as is the case with most forms of data analytics, is found in the future. Or, more specifically, the answer is the future.

The best of the bunch will use the data that’s been collected on published books to make decisions on titles that haven’t hit the shelves or even been conceived. At the heart of the matter it’s about trends; if a book has an open rate of an astonishing 95.3%, it’s probably worth taking a look at the cover imagery or wording and to figure out ways to duplicate that style. Or, if a book has middling sales figures but a high completion percentage, perhaps the marketing department should look into how to better advertise the book as it’s clearly one that people enjoy reading. Since e-books and readers are still a relatively recent invention, publishers are still working to figure out exactly what to do with this influx of information. The magic bullet is the combination of understanding what the data means (readers love the color blue on a cover) and then making a change (adding more blue to future covers).

Thus far a lot of the major publishing houses have been slow to embrace the influx of technology and data. To be fair, it is still the early days of the publishing data boom. That coupled with the fact that, for the time at least, print books are still outselling e-books, those big names in publishing still have some time to adjust. For those smaller publishing companies, however, the information gained through Big Data could be just the thing that helps them get a leg up in an otherwise crowded field.

Photo Credit: Taka@P.P.R.S

Categories: Best Practices