Digital publishing news and views from the Firsty Group


November 4th, 2014

Big data, big opportunities

The data at publishers’ disposal is snowballing. That creates headaches—but some exciting prospects too

This is an age of abundance of data. Before digital technology arrived in publishing, the statistical information kept by most organisations was fairly rudimentary. Publishers knew little about how, where, when and why their books were selling, and retailers had few insights into the habits of their customers. Decisions were frequently based on experience and hunches—educated guesses that often proved correct, but that carried a lot of risk.

It is all much more scientific now. Nielsen BookScan data has given publishers a torrent of insights into their sales, while retailers have developed enormous databases to help them get closer to buyers. These statistics and more—from internet searches, social media, buying histories, reader reviews and many more avenues—help to answer questions that would once have left publishers grasping at straws.

They have snowballed into the new buzzword for this and other industries—‘Big Data’. It was a hot topic at the Frankfurt Book Fair, albeit one that has so far been largely talked about rather than acted on. Even its definition—around huge volumes of unstructured data that go beyond the realms of spreadsheets and databases—seems a bit vague. But unlocking the secrets of big data might one day change the face of publishing.

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