Ethics, Data and More at Book Summit 2013

BookNet’s Noah Genner explains
where the data comes from.

Data has a way of stimulating discussion - there’s just something about hard facts that gets people thinking in exciting new ways. There was a lot of data being presented at this year’s Book Summit conference in Toronto, and it seems clear that the industry is doing a lot of thinking about what data it needs, and how to use that data to reach more readers with books that they really want to buy.

But of course, as much as we here at BookNet love our data, it was but one of several topics touched upon at the conference. Here are a few of the topics that came up at the conference that the BookNet team are still talking about today.

Nonfiction isn’t always true

In his keynote address, New York Times ethicist and author Chuck Klosterman discussed the sometimes surprisingly large grey area between fiction and nonfiction. While good writing seems like it should still be good writing whether the story being told happened in real life or in the author’s imagination, it turns out that there’s actually a pretty big emotional let-down that occurs when readers discover that something they thought was non-fiction was fabricated, or even just embellished.

Klosterman related how he was personally quite disappointed to find out that a collection of supposedly true David Foster Wallace pieces actually contained a lot of fictionalized elements—and, of course, all the best parts were fiction.

Where does ethics enter into all of this? Well, aside from all the issues surrounding the author-reader bond of trust, Klosterman pointed out that embellishing stories presented as straight nonfiction or journalism may hurt other writers as well, by raising reader standards for how interesting or exciting “real-life” events can actually be. 

Ebooks can look good

Laura Brady of Brady Type and Erin Mallory of House of Anansi Press busted the myth of the ugly ebook. In their session, they pointed out some common issues that trip up ebook designers and suggested new ways to not only adapt layouts to e-formatting but to actually take advantage of the possibilities to make ebooks look better.

One aha moment - white space doesn’t cost anything in an ebook, what would have been too luxurious for many print books is suddenly available at no cost and ebook designers can take advantage of this.

Slides from the presentation are available online, if you’re looking for inspiration.

Marketing data is everywhere

The “By the Numbers” presentation by publishing marketer Peter McCarthy was a particularly popular one with the data-heads at the conference. McCarthy emphasized the importance of consumer data for marketers that goes beyond aggregate studies to give us actionable insights into the online behaviour patterns and psychographic profiles (beliefs, values, lifestyles) of specific audiences.

But how do we get at that data? McCarthy highlighted web tools such as Google Trends, Facebook Ads, and PeekAnalytics that, when used in conjunction with one another, can help us get started creating data-driven marketing campaigns that are laser-focused on actual consumers.

If you weren’t there (or if you were, and didn’t get it all down!), McCarthy has made his slides available on his website.

Knowing your readers is more important than ever

BookNet’s very own Noah Genner presented some choice data from our recent study The Canadian Book Consumer 2012, including information about print vs ebook sales, seasonal sales, impulse purchases, and discovery factors.

In the panel discussion that followed, panellists Kevin Hanson (Simon & Schuster Canada), Jack Illingworth (Literary Press Group) and Erin Creasey (ECW Press) talked about how their companies use data to connect writers to readers, figure out price points and print runs, and more.

One interesting point that was raised was about the importance of not only identifying and reaching out to niche markets of consumers, but of tracking unconventional sales such as books sold at launches and events that are not reported by other retailers. Did you know these direct sales can be reported by publishers directly to SalesData? Well, they can!

There was plenty more going on at the conference, but one thing that was clear throughout is that we live in an age of data abundance. And that’s a great place to be!