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June 29 2012

Publishing News: NewCo's global spread

Here are a few items that caught my attention in the publishing space this week.

NewCo needs to focus beyond the Nook

Nook LogoJim Milliot at Publishers Weekly reported this week that Barnes & Noble is looking to open Nook digital bookstores across the globe. He writes that according to Barnes & Noble's 10-K filing with the Securities & Exchange Commission, "B&N says that through NewCo it plans to launch the Nook digital bookstore in 10 countries within 12 months." [Link added.]

Joe Wikert (@jwikert), GM and publisher at O'Reilly Media, has written much this year about B&N business strategies and where the company needs to go. I reached out to find out what he thinks of this latest move. He says the important factor is what they're going to do with the stores — opening B&N stores overseas similar to stores in the U.S. would be "silly," he says, and that B&N and NewCo really should focus on opening technology-oriented stores that focus on more than just the Nook.

His entire (lightly edited) response is reprinted here with permission:

"I definitely think B&N needs to reinvent itself. It's still very much stuck in the traditional brick-and-mortar mold. I was excited when Microsoft announced its investment and likely joint creation of NewCo with B&N, but, of course, we haven't heard much since that original announcement.

"The latest news that B&N is looking to expand overseas isn't earth shattering, and what I'd really love to know more about is how they intend to branch out. Let's face it. Bookstores in pretty much every other country are feeling much the same pain stores in the U.S. are dealing with. So, it would be silly for B&N to simply think they could open up a bunch of stores overseas that look like the ones they have here. In my opinion, what they really need to do is reimagine the in-person experience they can offer, both here in the U.S. and everywhere else on the planet. That's where Microsoft could come in.

"I'd love to see B&N's stores evolve into more technology and solutions outlets. They've undoubtedly had some success by adding the Nook kiosks into their existing stores. Let's see if they can take that a step further and create technology stores within the stores, featuring much more than just the Nook. For example, what about Xbox? Or Kinect? Those areas in Best Buy seem to be the last ones that are getting much foot traffic these days. Microsoft has their own small chain of stores, 16 or so, I believe. Rather than building that chain out any further, why not work with B&N to have a Microsoft consumer technology area within the B&N stores? And not just here in the U.S. This could be done around the globe.

"Everything about NewCo up to now seems to indicate it's only about digital and online, not the brick-and-mortar stores that are the very foundation of B&N. I hope that changes over time. The opportunity for NewCo isn't just with Nooks and ebooks. It's also about a much broader technology play that can help both companies compete with the likes of Amazon."

Ereading data leads to new content forms

Alexandra Alter posted an interesting piece this week at The Wall Street Journal on how ereading not only is changing reading behavior and the reading experience, but how ebooks are putting valuable never-before-seen data into publishers' hands. She notes that traditionally, publishers measured reader satisfaction via reviews and sales data, but that such limited metrics are a thing of the past as the publishing industry begins to embrace big data "and more tech companies turn their sights on publishing." Focusing on Barnes & Noble as an example, Alter reports:

"Barnes & Noble ... has recently started studying customers' digital reading behavior. Data collected from Nooks reveals, for example, how far readers get in particular books, how quickly they read and how readers of particular genres engage with books. Jim Hilt, the company's vice president of e-books, says the company is starting to share their insights with publishers to help them create books that better hold people's attention. ... Barnes & Noble has determined, through analyzing Nook data, that nonfiction books tend to be read in fits and starts, while novels are generally read straight through, and that nonfiction books, particularly long ones, tend to get dropped earlier. Science-fiction, romance and crime-fiction fans often read more books more quickly than readers of literary fiction do, and finish most of the books they start. Readers of literary fiction quit books more often and tend skip around between books.

Hilt told Alter that the data has already affected B&N's offerings on the Nook. For example, data showing readers often abandon long nonfiction works led to Nook Snaps.

Books as great datasets for the web

Hugh McGuire (@hughmcguire), founder of PressBooks, recently spoke at TEDxMontreal about the blurring lines between books and the Internet, and the value the web can bring to books. Here are a few short snippets from his talk:

"It turns out that ebooks are just made of HTML, which is the programming language or the markup language that drives the Internet ... So, it makes sense since we've been making these kinds of structured collections of text available as websites for many many years that we would use the same kinds of technologies to make ebooks. But, of course, there's a terror here — and a catch. That's that publishers are deathly afraid of the Internet. And, in a way, they have very good reason to be afraid of the Internet because the Internet is famous for gobbling up business models and spitting out total chaos.

"But it hasn't been so bad yet because ebooks look pretty similar to books, in terms of the structure of the business and what we can do with them. That, really, I think is a problem. It's a problem because in order to get this similarity with the past, we've ended up constraining ebooks and making them look a lot more like print books and a lot less like the Internet.

"There are all sorts of things you can do with a website or information that's on a website that you can't do with ebooks. You can't link to a canonical version of an ebook. You can't link to a specific chapter or a specific page ... So, this poses a question to all of you, as readers. The question is this: Would you have more value if books were available in print and ebooks and a web version, or if you just had print and ebooks?"

McGuire talks about what we can do with books on the Internet, the value web versions can add to books, and thinking about books as great datasets that could be explored in new ways once they're opened up on the web. You can watch his full TEDxTalk below:


March 29 2012

State of the Computer Book Market, part 1: Overall Market

Since last year's State of the Computer Book Market posts, the Tech Book market has been going through some major changes, but none more profoundly affecting our industry as Borders Group Inc (BGI) going out of business. Much of what you will see in the 2012 trends are directly related to BGI's demise, though the faint signals that the book market provides to other industries are still evident.

You can get a quick refresher on how we see Computer Book Sales as a Technology Trend Indicator and our other posts on the State of the Computer Book Market.

The data in the posts that will follow, are from Bookscan's weekly top 3,000 titles sold. Bookscan measures actual cash register sales in bookstores. Simply put, whenever you buy a technology-oriented book in the United States, there's a high probability it will get recorded in this data. There are now two major Retailers in Tech books and they are: Barnes & Noble, and Amazon and they make up the lion's share of Bookscan's recorded sales.

Overall Book Market Performance

Before we get to the specifics of the computer book market, let's get some context by looking at the whole book market for the week ending December 25, 2011. Everything that is printed, bound, and sold as a book, from Steve Jobs and Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back to Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever and StrengthsFinder 2.0 is represented in the table below.

Overall Book Market - EVERYTHING - Week Ending: 2011-12-25

All Books, All Subjects Category Share YoY Adult Non-Fiction 40% -8% Computers 1% 2% Adult Fiction 19% -11% Juvenile Non-Fiction 6% 11% Juvenile Fiction 25% 10% Other 9% -30% Total 100% -9.25%

As you can see, the computer market is up about 2% from last year which is much better than the whole market being down more than -9%. It should be noted that the computer book market makes up only about 1% of total unit sales in bookstores and online retailers. Also, for this report and the following four posts, I am using a data that is aggregated from weekly reports of the Top 3000 titles in Bookscan. So the numbers for all the long-tail titles are not included here. In other words the data in the table above shows a 2% growth and yet our top 3000 data shows a 0.7% growth. This actually means that a considerable number of long-tail titles sold in 2011 yet did not make it past the minimum threshold to make a weekly top 3000 report. If you would like to see the performance of the major book categories, this table shows percentage growth. I find it interesting that the Religion/Bibles category is the largest-growing category in an otherwise depressed market. Only 10 out of the 47 overall categories showed growth in 2011 and the computer category was one of them. We'll look at precisely what fueled the growth for the computer category in future posts.

Now on to the technology book market. The four charts below provide some perspective into how each year stacks up against prior years from a Units and Title Count as well as Average Pages per book, and Average Price per book. The third and fourth charts provide context to how many new Titles were published during a given year and what the threshold was to make the Top 3000 report on a weekly basis. The chart on the top left shows the overall units sold per year with the Red Line showing the number of distinct titles that made the Bookscan Top 3000 weekly report. Looking at the two together provides a better insight into what happened. Basically as fewer units were sold, it looks as though more titles were published. Yet as you can see in the chart at the bottom of the four charts, there were fewer new titles in 2011 that contributed to the total units sold. So this leads me to believe that the numeric threshold to get into the dataset of the Top 3000 titles sold on a weekly basis was lower than previous years. And in fact the bottom right chart shows this was the case as 2011 had the lowest threshold in all years measured. So fewer books made the data with fewer of them being new and they had fewer pages and were priced lower on average than ever before. And yet the market showed a slight increase, so this must have come as a result of a few stellar performers that were likely titles published before 2011. We'll explore this in the coming posts, so hang on to this thought.

Units and Distinct Title Count Average Pages and Average Price MarketUnits_Count.jpg
MarketPages_Price.jpg Percent of New Titles Minimum threshold for DataSet


Immediately below is the weekly trend (from the Top 3000 titles reported weekly) for the entire computer book market since 2004, when we first obtained reliable data from Bookscan. Please remember that the data represents all publishers, and not just O'Reilly. The slightly thicker red line represents the 2011 data.

Click to enlarge

The clear seasonal pattern that we've pointed out before still exists, but with more extreme fluctuations. That is, we have a strong start that declines through the summer, spikes for the fall "Back to School" season, and finishes the year strong. And each subsequent year closely mirrors the year before but with usually a percent tick or two lower. But the biggest news for 2011 was that we had some weeks that were clearly above prior years and one week that was the highest we've seen for all the years. However, this boon comes through the unfortunate Borders fire sale, and then the eventual liquidation of their remaining inventory. In my opinion, it is too early to predict what long-term effect we will see with Borders gone, because as you'll notice as soon as their doors closed, the market hit bottom. Not only did it hit bottom, but the market tanked further down than we have ever seen it. But the reason I still think we are not in a pattern of predictability yet is that the December climb up was higher than the four previous years. So in a nutshell, 2011 was a year of our highest highs and our lowest lows and that was likely due to the Borders situation.

What you won't see on this chart is that the computer book market suffered its biggest losses in 2001 and then began shrinking 20 percent a year for 3 years, until it stabilized in 2004 at about half the size it was in 2000. (We have consistent and reliable data going back to 2004.) You can now see a second cratering in the market that started in the second half of 2008 and continued through 2010 until the more volatile and unpredictable 2011. The overall market growth rates for the previous seven years are: 2005 = 1.48%; 2006 = 3.17%; 2007 = -2.00%; 2008 = -4.27%; 2009 = -15.31%; 2010 = -4.29%; 2011 = +0.7%

So what about that market was news in 2011 other than Borders? In 2011, There were 21 weeks in the year that were ahead of the same week in 2010. In 2010 there were 11 weeks that were ahead of the prior year unit sales and in 2009, there were only two weeks that were ahead of the prior year. I am not willing to state that we are seeing a recovery in the market because a .7% growth is not exactly a strong signal in the right direction. To the optimists in the crowd, it appears as though we have seen bottom in October through November of 2011 — but pessimists will believe that they've seen this before: the market looks as though it hit bottom, but then takes another big hit downward. 2009 (the green line) was a turbulent rollercoaster ride to the bottom as well. So at this time the market is really too unstable to predict whether it will move down again or continue to recover.

Another way to look at the market is with the Treemap visualization tool. This tool helps us pick up on trends quickly, even when looking at thousands of books. It works like this:

The size of a square shows the market share and relative size of a category, while the color shows the rate of change in sales. Red is down, and green is up, with the intensity of the color representing the magnitude of the change. The following screenshot of our treemap shows gains and losses by category, comparing the fourth quarter of 2011 with the fourth quarter of 2010.

Click to enlarge

So what are all the boxes and colors telling us? First remember that this is compares the last quarters of the previous two years.

There were quite a few bright spots (bright green) during the last quarter of 2011. Take a look at Android Programming (in the upper-left box), the bright-green box showing growth from the fourth quarter of 2010. Right next to Android is iOS which is larger in size, but Black which means flat growth. You will also see Android again in bright-green (upper-middle box) — the difference is that the upper-left is for programmer-oriented books and the upper-middle is for Android consumer books [using your Droid]. Both had impressive growth in 2011 compared to 2010. In the upper-middle area is iPad and iPhone for consumers which where flat or down. I wonder if the iPhone 4GS was as big of a hit as the iPhone 4. The iPad, the upper-middle big black square, continues to impress with how big the box is at this early point in its evolution, and is flat because both years have netted lots of units sold. Look at Windows 7 just below iPad and notice that the iPad size is about 3/5 as big as Windows 7. That is amazing to me, as the iPad has grown to be almost as big as the business desktop operating system.

In 2010, Windows 7 was the number one growth area for units, followed by iPad, then Android (for consumers), and Android programming. This is unit growth, and a bit of the success for these technologies is that they are fairly new and do not have large market shares as a base to be measured against Looking at longer-established technologies, Security and Network Security and Digital Photography had strong unit growth.

I find it useful to organize the trends into classifications that are High Growth Categories bright green, Moderate Growth Categories dark green to black, Categories to Watch all colors, and Down Categories red to bright red. Most of these descriptions are self-explanatory, except perhaps Categories to Watch. This group contains titles that we've found are not typically susceptible to seasonal swings, as well as areas on our editorial radar. If there are categories you want to get on our watch list, please let me know.

The table below highlights and explains some of the data from the chart above, although the data is for all of 2011. The Share column shows the total market share of that category, and the ROC column shows the Rate of Change (RoC = (current_period - prev_period) / prev_period). So, for example, you can see that Mac OS books represent 2.79% of the entire computer book market, and were shrinking by -7.49% (RoC).

High Growth Share ROC Notes iPad 04.46% 65.57% From no presence in 2009, to a 1.74% market share in 2011, to the the largest market share for all topics in 2011. Ironically, physical books about the iPad, sell. Nook 00.86% 100.00% This category had no 2010 presence, but is now the 29th largest category in market share. Again, the irony of this — content about a book reader sells well in physical form. iPhone 01.97% 21.65% This category has seen steady increases each year except in 2010. 2011 almost matched its high point in units which was in 2009. Of all categories it is ranked 6th in 2011. JavaScript 00.98% 18.79% 2011 saw nearly 12,000 more units sold than 2010. 2006 was the high mark for JavaScript with 323 more units sold than 2011 but last year had the biggest growth year-over-year. Computers and Society 01.11% 32.53% This area reached its highest ever point for unit sales and moved to the 16th ranked area in 2011. It ranks 45th on the all time list.   Moderate Growth Share ROC Notes Java 01.32% 08.27% A nice steady pattern for Java now. Growth in each of the previous three years. It is the 12th largest category overall and reached that same rank in 2011. Web Design 01.03% 05.17% This category pattern is like a roller-coaster, up and down. Overall it ranks 13th, but in 2011 it was 22nd even though it showed modest growth compared with 2010. C++ 00.93% 06.87% A language that was built to last, and used to build things that last. The overall sales pattern is inconsistent. Its overall rank is 19th and in 2011 it was 25th. CSS 00.78% 06.34% The pattern here has been downward since 2007 but in 2011 there was modest growth. Overall it is ranked 24th and in 2011 it was 31st. Game Development 00.73% 08.96% Growth in the previous two years is fueled in part by new books on mobile game development. About 15% of the new Game Dev books were covered mobile.   Categories to Watch Share ROC Notes Office Suites 2.71% 6.88% Our fourth largest category for all years measured and usually consistent. The fact that this category is up may be attributable to new Laptops and Desktops being purchased. Digital Photography 05.71% -3.17% A very large category with five 2011 titles producing more than 10,000 units sold. 2011 had 6 additional titles making the list, yet the category sold -11,533 fewer units than 2010. Spreadsheets 04.53% 0.41% The third largest category, with 3 titles selling more than 10,000 units; 13 fewer titles made the list in 2011 yet produced 1,172 more units than 2010. Software Project Management 01.97% -04.74% A good-size and consistent category, though it is down in units sold. 31 additional titles in this category produced 5,941 fewer units in 2011. PMP and Agile still drive the category from a units perspective.   Down Categories Share ROC Notes Windows Consumer 04.36% -49.63% All time the second largest category, yet the saw 21 fewer titles make the list in 2011 and -137,958 fewer units sold. Perhaps a signal that Tablets are becoming more important than the desktop? Web Programming 01.68% -17.77% Historically, the 4th largest category yet in 2011 37 fewer titles made the list and -19,083 fewer units were sold. This loss is attributed mostly the PHP & MySQL books that used to dominate the web programming space. MacOS 02.79% -07.49% This category is ranked #5 for all time, yet the past two years have seen significant decreases. 18 more titles made the list in 2011, but they produced -13,309 fewer units. Could it be that Snow Leopard and Lion were not significant enough releases? Or are tablets eroding this category too? Flash 00.77% -45.30% Overall ranked 14th, this category has dropped in market share from 2.01% to .77%; it ranked 34th in 2010 and now 45th in 2011. HTML5 seems to be the clear influence in this space. Web Design Tools 01.12% -21.35% All time ranking of 8th, yet this is the second year in a row this category takes it on the chin with -15,196 fewer units sold and 8 fewer titles making the list in 2011. The decline in this category is mostly attributed to Dreamweaver.

Post 2 in this series will provide a closer look at the technologies within the categories. Post 3 will be about the publishers, both winners and losers. Post 4 will contain more analysis of programming languages, and Post 5 will look at digital sales.

Sponsored post

March 23 2012

Publishing News: Ereading on a landing plane

Though I wasted a good deal of time this week mesmerized by the Daily Dispatches from the Internet's Worst Reviewers website (hat tip to Joe Wikert and Kat Meyer), there were a few publishing stories that still caught my eye.

Tray tables must be upright, but (hopefully soon) you can leave your iPads on

ereaders.jpgIn December, the FAA approved iPad use for pilots in cockpits during takeoff and landing, but not for passengers. According to a post by Nick Bilton at the New York Times, the FAA decided this week that it may be time to bring passengers into the 21st century as well. Bilton reported the last time the FAA tested gadgets for approval was 2006 — and that testing requires a much greater time and expense investment than one might think:

"Abby Lunardini, vice president of corporate communications at Virgin America, explained that the current guidelines require that an airline must test each version of a single device before it can be approved by the FAA. For example, if the airline wanted to get approval for the iPad, it would have to test the first iPad, iPad 2 and the new iPad, each on a separate flight, with no passengers on the plane.

"It would have to do the same for every version of the Kindle. It would have to do it for every different model of plane in its fleet. And American, JetBlue, United, Air Wisconsin, etc., would have to do the same thing."

Bilton offered a reasonable solution to the time/cost problem: Each airline could offer up one plane, one day per month throughout testing and the bill would be sent to the device manufacturers that want devices approved — if you don't pony up, your device doesn't get tested. In any case, I look forward to not being scolded next time I forget the book I'm engrossed in needs to be shut off.

Mini TOC Chicago — Being held April 9, Mini TOC Chicago is a one-day event focusing on Chicago's thriving publishing, tech, and bookish-arts community.

Register to attend Mini TOC Chicago

If you're not selling direct, you're not getting all the data

Joe Wikert (@jwikert), GM and publisher at O'Reilly, took a look at the availability of publishing data this week. He argued that direct sales channels are worth the investment for publishers because when you sell directly to consumers, you have access to the entire data stream.

For example, O'Reilly recently conducted an ereader survey through its direct sales channel, and Wikert shared the results:

"So, what's the primary ereading device used by these early adopters and techno-enthusiasts? Their iPads. That's not shocking, but what's interesting is how only 25% of respondents said the iPad is their primary device. A whopping 46% said their laptop or desktop computer was their primary ereading device."

He also noted that among O'Reilly customers, the popular EPUB and Mobi formats were topped by PDF as the primary ereading format. This sort of information, Wikert argued, isn't likely to be transparent when you're relying on a third-party intermediary with an agenda. You can read his post here. And if you want more stats from the survey, Wikert tweeted them with the #ORMeStat hashtag.

One word for news: "Mobile"

The State of the News Media 2012, the annual report on American journalism from the Pew's Project for Excellence in Journalism, was released this week.

Overall trends uncovered in the study include a lack of social media influence — "the notion that large percentages of Americans now get their news mainly from recommendations from friends does not hold up" — and highlight the fact that privacy concerns are becoming a major issue for news revenues:

"To survive, news must find a way to make its digital advertising more effective — and more lucrative — and the gathering of consumer data is probably the key. Yet news organizations also must worry about violating the trust of their audiences."

Trends showed mobile is proving to be very important for news:

"... mobile news consumers are even more likely to turn to news organizations directly, through apps and home pages, rather than search or recommendations — strengthening the bond with traditional brands."

Technology may be more foe than friend, however. Though the study found that mobile technology is giving news consumption a boost (27% of Americans now get news on mobile devices), a study of the money shows that tech companies may be edging out traditional news channels:

"In 2011, five technology giants generated 68% of all digital ad revenue, according to the market research firm eMarketer — and that does not include Amazon and Apple, which make their money from devices and downloads. By 2015, roughly one out of every five display ad dollars is expected to go to Facebook, according to the same source ... 'Our analysis suggests that news is becoming a more important and pervasive part of people's lives,' PEJ Director Tom Rosenstiel said. 'But it remains unclear who will benefit economically from this growing appetite for news.'"

Full study results can be found here.

Got news?

Suggestions are always welcome, so feel free to send along your news scoops and ideas.

Photo: Evolution of Readers by jblyberg, on Flickr


February 24 2012

Practical applications of data in publishing

At TOC, you're as likely to run into media professionals, entrepreneurs and innovators as you are publishers, booksellers and others working in traditional publishing. This, in turn, makes the underlying themes as varying and diverse as the attendees. This is the second in a series, taking a look at five themes that permeated interviews, sessions and/or keynotes at this year's show. The complete series will be posted here.

As the world — and publishing — becomes more and more digital, more and more data is produced and, ideally, collected. Knowing what kinds of data can be useful and how data analytics can be applied to inform publishing decisions is on the minds of many publishing professionals. Data was one of the overriding themes at this year's Tools of Change for Publishing conference, including discussions on how publishers can benefit from real-time data, practical applications of data and analytics, and how data can not only inform publishing decisions, but can actually aid in content creation.

In a keynote address, Roger Magoulas, director of market research at O'Reilly Media, talked about data research and the view of the data space at O'Reilly. He offered practical suggestions on how to incorporate data and addressed some of the reasons behind the buzz going on in the data space:


Machine learning and natural language processing, for instance, have become mainstream tools. Magoulas said the tools for making use of big data have kept pace with the increasing amounts of data produced, allowing a small team like his — just three people — to do everything.

When incorporating data to inform business decisions or to analyze business scenarios, Magoulas said data alone isn't enough — the data needs a narrative; the numbers alone won't tell the story. He addressed the area of data science from a functional viewpoint:

"On the one side, you manage data — you've got to acquire it; you might have to clean it up; you've got to organize it. On the other side, you're trying to make sense of it; you're trying to gather insights."

Magoulas said those are the two key parts, but that the most important part probably is having or cultivating a culture that can accommodate the data: "People need to understand the message that you're giving ... and how to value the input ... People need to be able to think in an experimental way and to stay curious."

When offering practical suggestions on incorporating data into a business, Magoulas stressed that becoming data savvy is important; "you can't just go buy big data and expect to know what you're doing." He also said keeping the data close to the analysis is important:

"You want to be agile, and if you separate it out and have a data group, an analytics group, and a design group, everyone is going to be waiting for someone else. Integration is really important."

You can view Magoulas' keynote in the following video (and you can find his slides here):

The data discussion turned real-time and academic in the "Mendeley Case Study: How The World's Largest Crowdsourced Academic Database Is Changing Academic Publishing" session, hosted by Jan Reichelt, director and co-founder of Mendeley Ltd. Reichelt shared some lessons learned at Mendeley and talked about how real-time data on content usage provides important insights into how academics interact with research. He stressed the increasing importance of social and community-collaborated content:



In addition to insights gleaned from the data around content usage, data around content production also was telling. Similar to other areas of the publishing industry — journalism, self-publishing — Reichelt highlighted the blurring lines between types of content producers and the types of content produced in academic publishing:


Reichelt's presentation slides can be found here.

Peter Collingridge (@gunzalis), co-founder of Enhanced Editions, talked about how publishers can benefit from real-time data and analytics in terms of marketing. In an interview, he said data can inform answers to vital questions:

"When you're in a much faster-paced world, with the industry moving toward being consumer- rather than trade-facing, and with a fragmented retail and media landscape, you need to make decisions based on fact: What is the ROI on a £50,000 marketing campaign? Where do my banner ads have the best CTR? Who are the key influencers here — are they bloggers, mainstream media, or somewhere else? How many of our Twitter followers actually engage? When should we publish, in what format, and at what price?

Data should absolutely inform the answers to these questions ... Over time, you build up a picture of which tactics work best and which don't. And immediate feedback allows you to hone your activities in real-time to what works best (particularly if you are A/B testing different approaches), or from a more strategic perspective, to plan out campaigns that have historically worked best for comparable titles."

As the data deluge grows in the digital age, it not only is useful for analysis and informing decisions, it also can be used to create content. In a video interview, Robbie Allen, founder and CEO of Automated Insights, a company that produces narrative content from raw data, addressed this topic. He said for now, quantitative content created from structured data — think sports stories, financial reports — is best suited for automation, but that creating content from unstructured data isn't out of the question:

"In the unstructured world, we still can access what I call 'consistent unstructured data.' If there's patterns to data, we can still pull out data from that and make it structured. So, ultimately, we start with structured, then we go to consistent unstructured, and eventually, we'll even be able to pull data out of completely unstructured."

Allen's full interview can be viewed in the following video:

If you couldn't make it to TOC, or you missed a session you wanted to see, sign up for the TOC 2012 Complete Video Compilation and check out our archive of free keynotes and interviews.


February 15 2012

Book marketing is broken. Big data can fix it

Peter Collingridge (@gunzalis), cofounder of Enhanced Editions says digital books are requiring a new style of data-driven marketing and promotion that publishers aren't yet implementing. He also says that book marketing is broken and big data is the solution.

In the following interview, Collingridge talks about how real-time data and analytics can help publishers and he shares insights from the beta period of Bookseer, a market intelligence service for books his company is developing.

What are some key findings from the Bookseer beta?

peter-collingridge.jpgPeter Collingridge: I think despite the increasing awareness of data as being a critical tool for publishers to compete, it's genuinely hard for people to look at data as a natural addition to the work they are doing, whether that's in PR, marketing, acquisition, or pricing.

Publishing has operated in a well-defined way for a long time, where experience and intuition have dominated decision making and change is hard. What has been really exciting is that when people have the data in front of them, clearly showing the immediate impact of something they did — a link between cause and effect that they couldn't see before — they get really excited. We've had people talking about being "obsessed" and "addicted" to the data.

Some of the most surprising findings: That on some titles, big price changes aren't as relevant to volume as everyone thinks; that big-name glowing reviews of literary fiction don't have anywhere near the impact on sales to merit the effort; and that social media buzz almost never translates into sales.

For me, the key observations so far are around marketing. First, big budget media spending and ostentatious banner ads might impress authors and bookshops, but they deliver very poor return on investment (ROI) for sales. Secondly, the super-smart publishers are behaving like startups and doing tiny little pieces of very focused and cheap marketing — and watching the results like hawks before iterating in direct response to the data. Bookseer is designed to disclose the former and to aid the latter — and that is probably our biggest finding: it works!

Find out more about Bookseer in the following video from the If Book Then conference earlier this year in Milan.

What kinds of data are most important for publishers to track?

Peter Collingridge: Before we built Bookseer, we spoke with 25 people across the industry, including authors big, small and unpublished; editors and publishers; managing directors; digital directors; sales, marketing and PR directors; and literary agents. We asked exactly that question.

For most people, the data they had was pretty basic: Nielsen (which obviously only goes to the granularity of one week) plus the F5 button to manically refresh an Amazon web page for changes in sales rank. Neither of these is particularly helpful in determining the impact of an activity.

Of course, there are loads of data points, but we began with the lowest-hanging fruit. Aggregated sales (print and digital) across multiple sources; Amazon sales rank; price; best-seller charts; social media mentions; buzz; review coverage in mainstream and new media, and on social reading sites; and other factors such as promotion (advertising and other) and merchandising.

We think the most important thing to do is aggregate activity and data points across as many sources as possible, building a picture of what's going on for one title or across a whole retailer, and allowing publishers to draw their own conclusions.

What does real-time data let publishers do?

Peter Collingridge: Publishing has been B2B, about supplying books into bookshops, for forever — combined with working with media to support that. And for that world, weekly aggregated retail sales work, I guess. But when you're in a much faster-paced world, with the industry moving toward being consumer- rather than trade-facing, and with a fragmented retail and media landscape, you need to make decisions based on fact: What is the ROI on a £50,000 marketing campaign? Where do my banner ads have the best CTR? Who are the key influencers here — are they bloggers, mainstream media, or somewhere else? How many of our Twitter followers actually engage? When should we publish, in what format, and at what price?

Data should absolutely inform the answers to these questions. Furthermore, with a disciplined approach to promotion, where activities are separated from each other by a day or a few hours, real-time measurement can identify what works and what doesn't. We can identify the difference between Al Gore tweeting about a book and Tim O'Reilly doing the same; the difference between a Time review and a piece on CNN; the impact of a price drop against an email sent to 200,000 subscribers; and measure the exact ROI on a £300 campaign against a £30,000 one.

Over time, you build up a picture of which tactics work best and which don't. And immediate feedback allows you to hone your activities in real-time to what works best (particularly if you are A/B testing different approaches), or from a more strategic perspective, to plan out campaigns that have historically worked best for comparable titles.

How would you describe the relationship between sales and social media?

Peter Collingridge: Right now, sales drives social — not the other way round. However, I believe there will come a point when that's not the case, and we will be able to identify that.

This interview was edited and condensed.

Strata 2012 — The 2012 Strata Conference, being held Feb. 28-March 1 in Santa Clara, Calif., will offer three full days of hands-on data training and information-rich sessions. Strata brings together the people, tools, and technologies you need to make data work.

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