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Self-employed in publishing

Observing the audience: how reader analytics are influencing the industry

Reader analytics are garnering huge attention at the moment and there are at least four major talks at this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair discussing how and why publishers and authors can collect data on their readers. But with reader analytics taking the spotlight in publishing, the debate over the ethics of data harvesting and its uses has been brought to our doorstep.

Consensual data is happy data

The big issues around data harvesting are not just what information businesses and official organisations are collecting about us, it’s whether or not they’re doing it with our consent. For once, however, publishing is ahead of the curve on getting this one right.

Although big boys like Amazon remain the mysterious bastions of data collection they’ve always been, smaller companies specialising in reader analytics are proving to be honest, open and respectful about harvesting data. For example, Jellybooks use “reading campaigns” for as-yet unreleased books to provide information to publishers, in a similar way that a screen test would for a film studio. Jellybooks gathers data from readers who have volunteered to be monitored and received a free digital copy of the campaign book, which is clearly marked, so that the reader remembers they’re being observed.

What’s more, while Jellybooks have said that “though in principle [non-anonymised] data could be provided to the author or publisher” they do not give it. Despite some rumours, Jellybooks also does not gather data by measuring eye-movement, but by observing how the reader interacts with their app as they read. Jellybooks, and most reader analytics collectors, are more interested in the time of day consumers read, how long they read for, when they highlight or perform searches on text, and the operating system, device or browser being used. These are added to information the reader voluntarily provides, such as gender and age.

When working with companies like Jellybooks, publishers don’t need to feel compromised about using this data: it’s not an invasion, it’s a gift!

Data driven decisions

But why is data such hot property in the first place? Some have wondered – both in horror and hope – that reader analytics might effect the editorial process, but Jellybooks has said that this misunderstands how people read and the kind of data reader analytics can collect: “Readers judge a book as a whole based on storyline, language, characters, plot, etc. and not on individual chapters.” Though the data can be utilised in this way, knowing that “x” number of people dropped off at page 57 is not necessarily helpful to an author or a publisher.

Excitingly, what reader analytics can provide are evidence-based assessments of how a book is likely to perform in the market. Data on completion rates and recommendations gathered during the commissioning stage, for example, can help reduce the risk inherent in signing new books by indicating whether or not a book might be popular.

Later in the publishing process, analytics can also help marketing departments figure out how much budget to assign to their titles, what their audience looks like and how to find them – are they young or old, male or female? Do they binge-read on beach holidays, meaning you should get WHSmith Travel on board, or do they dip in on their on their commute to work, meaning you can grab them with a poster on the tube?

Best of all, this data is available via third-party companies like Jellybooks, meaning that although publishers have to pay fees for their data, they don’t need to make the huge investments in building platforms and software that was previously required. This information is more easily available to publishers than ever before.

Scratching the surface

Reader analytics still clearly has its limits and they may never become a magic wand for book sales, but the truth is that the possibilities for using this data are only just starting to be explored. Moreover, the software for collecting this data are still in its – albeit impressive – infancy. Looking ahead there is talk of Jellybooks developing some kind of “FitBit for books,” which will take retail copies of books into account as well as the pre-sales titles currently available. Others claim that one day soon we will be able to use data to predict the next big bestseller.

There can be no arguing that data harvesting is here to stay. The only, opportunity-filled question remains: how else are we going to use it?

 

Engaging new readers using Nielsen Book2Look widgets

Julia How co-founded The Witcherley Book Company in 2013. They now have a list of over 50 titles in an expanding catalogue, mainly covering puzzle books and comedy fiction. Here Julia talks about how The Witcherley Book Company have been using Nielsen Book2Look widgets for engaging their readers.

Around 40% of the world’s population has an Internet connection. Back in 1995, it was just 1%. Does that make it easy for publishers to get their books found by everyone online? Not really. As Internet usage increases, the amount of content on the web is increasing exponentially. To give you an even more precise figure, the amount of content on the Internet has started to double every 9-24 months.

So how do publishers go about getting their books found amongst this plethora of content? For a start; it helps to try something different – a new format, for example – to take your readers by surprise, and give them a better experience than they are used to. Nielsen Book2Look widgets do just that. They allow book publishers to share book extracts on their websites and on author websites, whilst also encouraging readers to share what they have found on social media.

We signed up to Book2Look widgets as soon as we heard of them, and have benefited from the range of features ever since. Here are some of the benefits:

QR codes

QR codes are a marketers’ marmite. They either work for you, or they don’t at all. Our main use for QR codes is in the back matter of other books in a series, but they have also been very useful on printed promotional materials: on leaflets, catalogues, bookmarks etc. With the increased use of mobile phones to access and buy products, they allow us to link through to a professional online book display.

ONIX and analytics

Smart publishers know the value of using an international standard to supply their book data, for instance using ONIX. Nielsen Book2Look data and images can now be loaded via ONIX, making it easy to use for publishers everywhere and provide a consistent source of data to data aggregators such as Nielsen Book and others. Google analytics can be embedded on each page too, so that you can fully analyse your reader journey.

Easy-to-update

Once the links to the widgets and QR codes are set up, they retain the same link addresses, so we haven’t had to change where they are embedded or printed, as they show the latest version with all the new features, automatically and simply allow us to keep up with new developments while we retain full control of the material presented.

The results

We’ve added the widgets to the company and author websites, and have seen them shared on some social media sites. Although we’ve not had masses of widget views (in the 100s rather than the 1000s), our first widget, set up in 2014, continues to receive views. We have seen follow-throughs to the shop links of 12-20%.

We’ve been pleased with the Book2Look widgets and look for opportunities to use them, and to update them with new material and to exploit new features. We plan to continue using them for our future fiction books. We’re excited this leading edge tool is accessible to a small publisher and look forward to future developments.

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