Getting Editorial Insight from Consumer Data

As e-book publishing matures, the need for consumer insight becomes more urgent and the lack of it makes businesses increasingly vulnerable. The only analytics available with print were sales and reviews which didn’t make for a particularly enlightening post-mortem. Eventually with the web you also got customer reviews/ratings, blogging and social chatter, but we’re only now beginning to monitor these things in an organized way and they don’t always make it back to the editorial group.

But for some time now, the big e-book retailers have been gathering e-book buying and reading data. Publishers who rely mostly on B2B have been left in the dark. This makes them ill equipped to compete with a retailer delving into publishing with consumer insight in hand. The lack of data sharing is also a missed opportunity for publishers to evaluate reader behaviour in an effort to acquire or edit in better alignment with consumer preferences.

It’s understandable that retailers may want to withhold purchasing information such as contact and demographic information and aggregated buying behaviour data as this secures their role in the supply chain at a time when publishers are looking to move toward B2C. But retailers can protect their business while still sharing e-reading metrics. The only reason to withhold reading data entirely is to develop a competing publishing program. Assuming for a moment that this isn’t part of every e-book retailer’s five-year plan, some data exchange could be beneficial to both parties: publishers could study what makes their books more engaging and produce better books for those retailers to sell.

But with or without retailer help, publishers are going to get their hands on some data. Post-mortem reader data is only the half of it. E-reading analytics create room for a sort of agile editorial too. Last month, the Wall Street Journal reported on this in a piece on e-reading privacy concerns. A few intrepid publishers have begun releasing early e-book editions of books and asking for reader feedback or have created choose-your-own-adventure e-books or games and tracked the most popular selections to incorporated findings into the future and/or print editions.

Creating games or choose-your-adventure e-books may be out of reach cost- and staffing-wise for smaller Canadian companies, but early e-book editions are feasible. Market research is too expensive for individual publishers to take on regularly, but test groups for early editorial feedback can be created cheaply. All a publisher needs to do is get a group of avid readers (or maybe collaborate with a bookclub) and give those readers exclusive free access to digital galleys they can monitor. And guess what—there are companies such as Hiptype that have already developed the plugins that will make that monitoring possible. Worth a shot, no?

I’m definitely not arguing here that all editorial should be crowsourced or agile. I’ll leave that for another time. But even if this sort of consumer reaction isn’t used to change content, it can still tell you a lot about the book you’re planning on publishing.