The Data Is Coming!

After Ipsos/NPD, which provided consumer data to the Book Industry Study Group’s Trends, exited the market, publishers struggled to get timely—or detailed—data on their consumers, and because their customers were retailers, they had little idea of who their readers were. The data that existed was too generic and surveyors often used questionable methodologies to get it.

But that is rapidly changing. Three relatively recent entrants into the market are the Codex Group, which surveys Borders customers to discover about genre, author, and jacket preferences (see our coverage here, here, and here); Bowker’s PubTrack, which partners with MarketTools, Inc. to conduct surveys; and the latest entrant, Verso Digital, which relies on its access to numerous “deep vertical” sites and is now rolling out a new service, tentatively called Verso Flight Plan.

Flight Plan makes Verso Digital’s survey technology available to publishers on a subscription or à la carte basis. It lets publishers carry out their own title-specific consumer research and pre-publication testing of book jackets, titles, and copy. They can analyze author awareness and audience size, run online focus groups, and delve into various vertical Reader Channels (such as Thought Leaders, Women’s Romance, and Science Fiction and Fantasy). The service will launch by the end of March; for more information, contact Business Development Director Jack McKeown at jack [at]

Recently, Publishing Trends interviewed Bowker Director of Client Development James Howitt about PubTrack Consumer. Howitt, who previously worked at BookScan, said he realized four years ago that Bowker, which at the time was attempting to compete with Nielsen BookScan, should “move away from POS in the trade market and [instead] directly survey the consumer.”

In the past, “it was easier to get a consumer to buy your product,” says Howitt. “All you had to do was get it into Barnes & Noble or Borders. But now, with e-readers, publishers becoming vendors, and search sites becoming publishers, consumers can go anywhere to purchase a book. Traditional tracking of core channels no longer reflects the whole size of the market.” Though Bowker is known primarily for its core product, Books in Print, the company is increasingly becoming known for following the demand chain of the book process—beginning with ISBN registration and ending with PubTrack Consumer, for publishers.

PubTrack Consumer, released in 2007, provides publishers with data regarding consumers’ book purchases, demographic, and behavioral profiles. Some clients include Random House (the charter subscriber), DC Comics, Zondervan, BISG, K-Mart, and Direct Brands. The cost of access to the service varies by client, Howitt says. Some companies, with complete toolset access to the data, can analyze information any way they want. Other companies have to rely on Bowker to come in to present it.

To obtain its data, Bowker works with MarketTools, Inc. (MTI), an online market research firm, using its ZoomPanel tool. MTI has a pool of 10 million active names of people age 13 and up (they receive rewards points for participation). Bowker tracks 3,000 unique individuals each month.

“In the past, companies like this were either doing phone-based or diary-based surveys,” says Howitt. “But if you try to get hold of a 13-year-old, they don’t have a household phone, they have mobile. If you’re doing diary-based surveys, you’re relying on someone with good handwriting, someone who’s able to distinguish Harry Potter #1 from Harry Potter #7.” As for internet access, Howitt says that since nearly nine people out of ten in the U.S. have it, “that bias…doesn’t affect what we’re doing.” (MarketTools weights the sample to eliminate any remaining bias.)

Panel participants answer 65 questions about their book-buying behavior. A participant is first asked to report on all the books she has acquired in the past month, including books bought as gifts. She types in each book’s ISBN (a diagram shows her where to find it; the ISBN ties back to the Books in Print database), which pulls up the book’s format, author, etc. Next, she answers questions about each purchase, such as:

How much did you pay for this book, excluding tax?
How was the book displayed when you first saw it?
What other items did you buy at the same time as this book?

“For the first time, the industry can see a book’s real average selling price,” says Howitt. “One of the things POS is great at telling you is that a book sold 20,000 units last week, but it’s not designed to tell you if that 20,000 is made up of 18 to 29-year-old females.” Kelly Gallagher, VP Publisher Services, notes that Bowker can also go back to previous participants and ask them more in-depth questions. The company also launched a Cover Analysis service last year.

Publishers have always had trouble attracting advertiser interest, and Bowker’s research opens up the opportunity to determine correlations between book buyers and brands. Now publishers just have to sign up for the service and learn how to use it.