As music, so books? • 20 July 2011 • The SnowBlog

As music, so books?

As you know, I'm one of those people who think you can discern occasional omens about the future of books by pawing through the entrails of the music and movie industries. I found this Businessweek article about the rise of Spotify very interesting on that score. Because Spotify (Wikipedia entry) lets people listen to lots of different music, often for free, it was a struggle to get the big music companies on board with it. But one of the juicier carrots the Spotify folks could dangle in front of sceptical music-biz execs was the banquet of data their service could offer about who is listening to which songs, where and when. Moreover, their data allows them to look at what effect promotional efforts are having in real time, while their artist is on that talk show or their Super Bowl ad is running. Imagine the possibilities. Now, perhaps I'm being doing them an injustice, but 'data hungry' isn't a term I would apply to most of the publishing industry. I'm probably being unfair, but I often meet publishing folk who want less analysis, innovation and clever marketing. They want the world of books to calm down (and ideally go backwards a bit), not whizz off into the future. And (again, I'm probably being unfair) I think many publishing folk would rather exercise their own personal judgement about which titles to commission and promote rather than be led around by what the 'usage data' from their books might tell them they should be doing. But, be that as it may, what has happened with Spotify is possible (and probably already happens to a limited extent) with e-books. When enough readers buy their books electronically, we'll be able to watch their reading whims in real-time. In theory you could get so granular that you could buy ad-space on a single bus-stop in Reading and watch to see what that does to local sales (at different times of the day, even!). And you could look at charts showing you the point in a book when the maximum number of readers abandoned it. Or who stayed up until 3am to finish it - and then downloaded the sequel. If that data were at least partially anonymised obtaining info of that sort might not even seem overly voyeuristic. Publishing is not alone in treating each sale as a success - even if the reader later regretted their purchase - because gathering usable feedback has been so difficult. It'll be interesting, once we're in a position to know a great deal more about what our readers like, want and genuinely enjoy to see what we do with that information.


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