The intersection of publishing and big data

The digital nature of most modern content, combined with increasingly powerful analytics packages, means that publishers of all stripes now have access to more crucial data than ever before.

The revolution of digital books, the most notable example of this big data and publishing intersection, has opened a door for unlimited analysis of how readers engage with books – data which publishers have yearned for, but never previously had access to. Even the minutest details, down to the average level of engagement with a particular article, now have metrics associated with them that can be studied.

As a result, one of the emerging areas of real utility at this intersection is that reliable information is being fed back to book publishers, providing clarity on previously unanswered questions such as; which books are being finished, which are left unopened and how quickly books are being read.

Although this could be perceived as a simple way to gather data about the latest paperback releases, for book publishers it’s an excellent way of measuring engagement.

Here’s just one illustration of this in practice. Results from a study led by Kobo over January to November 2014, as published in an article by The Guardian, found that it’s most completed book was not a Man Booker or Baileys Prize Winner. Instead, it was the humble, self-published thriller Rotten to the Core, which doesn’t even feature on the bestseller list – although the author, Kelleher has gone on to win a book deal with Amazon’s UK publishing imprint Thomas & Mercer.

In fact, none of those featured on Kobo’s UK Bestseller List were one of the most completed books of 2014. Something of a surprise, and a testament to the power of smaller but more devoted audiences.

So, the influx of big data now accessible to publishers is inevitably going to play a part in their future digital strategies – the question then arises as to how publishing will change with this data now available. Could it be that the age-old linear way in which books are consumed and published could shift to make room for more “modular” publishing models? As an open question, the effect on magazine and online publishing in general will be particularly interesting to follow, particularly as individual blog curators have long made use of analytics to tailor what content they choose to concentrate on.

Given that the industry now has a better insight into how e-book readers actually read, this approach is beginning to look more appealing for readers and publishers alike.

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