Book Publishing’s Big Data Future

Published March 4, 2014   |   
Tom Davenport

The publishing industry is not one of the overachievers in terms of its use of big data. And since my book on big data—Big Data @ Work—is out, I thought it might be fun to speculate on what big data will do to the business of publishing books. The goal of any publisher is to get its content bought and read. In the past, publishers could know only if their books and magazines were bought, and knowing even that was problematic. With the advent of Nielsen’s Bookscan in 2001, publishers could begin to receive point of sale data from physical bookstores.

Of course, physical bookstores, both chains and independents, have been on the decline for more than a decade, and overall sales by such bookstores haven’t risen during that time (according to Morris Rosenthal of Foner Books, a book sales numbers expert). We’ve seen the huge rise of Amazon, Apple, Google, and e-books during this period. If you include these online channels, book sales overall have done quite well.

In my book I talk about “disadvantaged” industries with big data, and one category is industries—like automobile manufacturers and consumer products companies—that have an intermediary between them and their customer. Publishers are in the same boat, but the boat is changing. What publishing industry statistics suggest is that while book publishers have always had intermediaries between them and their customers, their intermediaries have now become much more data-oriented. Amazon and Google are two of the most data-driven companies around, and Apple is becoming more so all the time.

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