BISG’s Making Information Pay Conference: Beyond “Business-as-Usual”; The Age of Big Data

Book Industry Study Group‘s Angela Bole, welcomed attendees to the May 3rd conference at the McGraw-Hill Auditorium, which focused on how to capture and use data in both print and digital book marketing and sales.  Despite a serious subject, the day’s presentations managed to be both accessible and entertaining.

First up was Jake Freivald from Information Builders, who talked about how important it is to present data in a visual way, centered on a few key data elements — especially the more unwieldy and complex it is.

Kyle Marx of Readerlink Distribution Services (which used to be Levy Home Entertainment and still claims to be the largest full-service print book distributor, with 100 publishing partners) also spoke of making data accessible to customers.  Only 1% of shoppers buy books at Readerlink serviced retailers (which include many big box stores), so anything that moves the needle helps.  For instance, shoppers repeatedly mention they look for books in certain categories like mystery and romance, so now those sections are highlighted on the store floor. Marx says they have reduced 300 metrics to 15 critical ones that are available on a dashboard. Echoing Freivald, he said that clients wanted more curated information, rather than having to ferret it out and analyze it themselves.  He mentioned his favorite site for pricing data is, which tracks Amazon pricing over time.

UK startup Bookseer‘s Peter Colleridge talked about the need to switch from publishers’ focus on demand, rather than its traditional focus on supply.  Bookseer collects social media and pricing data in real time — “data exhaust” — to gauge the effects of book marketing campaigns.

Metadata guru Brian O’Leary presented his work for BISG, a survey of publishers on what metadata they track, use, and want. His report will be released soon, but he gave the audience a précis on what the issues are – faster data processing updates, use of ONIX 3.0, uniformity of metadata, etc.  (For a fuller presentation, click here.)

Kyushu Chung, VP Biz Dev at Goodreads talked about how consumers discover books online. Goodreads claims 8 million registered members, plus 20 million visitors globally.  Almost 300 million books have been added to members’ bookshelves since it launched in 2007.  Only 5% of those come from the top forty bestsellers.  Almost 20% of books added to the “to read” shelf come from Goodreads recommendations. But Goodreads purposely skews the list to midlist, not bestsellers, on the theory that discovery is what it fosters.  With some books – he used Alan Brennert‘s Moloka’i as an example – 50% of members who put it on their shelf say they first heard about it from Goodreads.  Members surveyed say that after ‘known author,” and “friend’s (offline) recommendation,” Goodreads’ recommendation is the most important.  With, for instance, romance and mystery, readers take member recommendations even more seriously.  (Interestingly, mystery readers also love their favorite authors’ own websites.)

Chung used The Power of Habit* as an example of how a publisher can aid discovery of a book.  Random had 15 reviews on Goodreads before the third advance copy giveaway.  When it was released, there were already 26 reviews. Those recommendations and an NPR Fresh Air interview got the book into the “Movers & Shakers” list, so it was mentioned in email newsletters.  Random created a poll for Goodreads members, which went viral and catapulted the book into “to read” shelves and presumably, sales.

BISG’s Executive Director Len Vlahos reviewed a consumer purchases and attitudes study from Bowker, which suggests the ebook sales are growing incrementally, no longer dramatically.  Only 46% of Tablet owners use the device for reading ebooks.

The final speaker was Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit and NYT reporter, who used a Prezi presentation to engage his audience in understanding how — literally — enthralling the “habit loop” is. While the bulk if his talk was taken from his book and, though entertaining, wasn’t relevant to media, he ended by telling publishers how they could use the “cue” and “reward” system that triggers most powerful habits, to keep people reading.  Readers need, he said, surprise rewards — plot twists (he cited Hillary Mantel’Wolf Hall as an example), maybe embedded video or anything that challenges and delights the readers.  Ah, yes, and publish only good books!