Book marketing is broken. Big data can fix it
Peter Collingridge (@gunzalis), cofounder of Enhanced Editions says digital books are requiring a new style of data-driven marketing and promotion that publishers aren’t yet implementing. He also says that book marketing is broken and big data is the solution.
In the following interview, Collingridge talks about how real-time data and analytics can help publishers and he shares insights from the beta period of Bookseer, a market intelligence service for books his company is developing.
What are some key findings from the Bookseer beta?
Peter Collingridge: I think despite the increasing awareness of data as being a critical tool for publishers to compete, it’s genuinely hard for people to look at data as a natural addition to the work they are doing, whether that’s in PR, marketing, acquisition, or pricing.
Publishing has operated in a well-defined way for a long time, where experience and intuition have dominated decision making and change is hard. What has been really exciting is that when people have the data in front of them, clearly showing the immediate impact of something they did — a link between cause and effect that they couldn’t see before — they get really excited. We’ve had people talking about being “obsessed” and “addicted” to the data.
Some of the most surprising findings: That on some titles, big price changes aren’t as relevant to volume as everyone thinks; that big-name glowing reviews of literary fiction don’t have anywhere near the impact on sales to merit the effort; and that social media buzz almost never translates into sales.
For me, the key observations so far are around marketing. First, big budget media spending and ostentatious banner ads might impress authors and bookshops, but they deliver very poor return on investment (ROI) for sales. Secondly, the super-smart publishers are behaving like startups and doing tiny little pieces of very focused and cheap marketing — and watching the results like hawks before iterating in direct response to the data. Bookseer is designed to disclose the former and to aid the latter — and that is probably our biggest finding: it works!
Find out more about Bookseer in the following video from the If Book Then conference earlier this year in Milan.
What kinds of data are most important for publishers to track?
Peter Collingridge: Before we built Bookseer, we spoke with 25 people across the industry, including authors big, small and unpublished; editors and publishers; managing directors; digital directors; sales, marketing and PR directors; and literary agents. We asked exactly that question.
For most people, the data they had was pretty basic: Nielsen (which obviously only goes to the granularity of one week) plus the F5 button to manically refresh an Amazon web page for changes in sales rank. Neither of these is particularly helpful in determining the impact of an activity.
Of course, there are loads of data points, but we began with the lowest-hanging fruit. Aggregated sales (print and digital) across multiple sources; Amazon sales rank; price; best-seller charts; social media mentions; buzz; review coverage in mainstream and new media, and on social reading sites; and other factors such as promotion (advertising and other) and merchandising.
We think the most important thing to do is aggregate activity and data points across as many sources as possible, building a picture of what’s going on for one title or across a whole retailer, and allowing publishers to draw their own conclusions.
What does real-time data let publishers do?
Peter Collingridge: Publishing has been B2B, about supplying books into bookshops, for forever — combined with working with media to support that. And for that world, weekly aggregated retail sales work, I guess. But when you’re in a much faster-paced world, with the industry moving toward being consumer- rather than trade-facing, and with a fragmented retail and media landscape, you need to make decisions based on fact: What is the ROI on a £50,000 marketing campaign? Where do my banner ads have the best CTR? Who are the key influencers here — are they bloggers, mainstream media, or somewhere else? How many of our Twitter followers actually engage? When should we publish, in what format, and at what price?
Data should absolutely inform the answers to these questions. Furthermore, with a disciplined approach to promotion, where activities are separated from each other by a day or a few hours, real-time measurement can identify what works and what doesn’t. We can identify the difference between Al Gore tweeting about a book and Tim O’Reilly doing the same; the difference between a Time review and a piece on CNN; the impact of a price drop against an email sent to 200,000 subscribers; and measure the exact ROI on a £300 campaign against a £30,000 one.
Over time, you build up a picture of which tactics work best and which don’t. And immediate feedback allows you to hone your activities in real-time to what works best (particularly if you are A/B testing different approaches), or from a more strategic perspective, to plan out campaigns that have historically worked best for comparable titles.
How would you describe the relationship between sales and social media?
Peter Collingridge: Right now, sales drives social — not the other way round. However, I believe there will come a point when that’s not the case, and we will be able to identify that.
This interview was edited and condensed.