Show me the data!
One thing we try to do at Digital Book World is to present our audiences with useful, relevant, and, when we can, original data. It is a familiar complaint in our industry that we drive blind. Part of that is due to the sheer diversity and granularity of the “book business”. And another part is due to the blistering rate of change. The net result is that we are constantly trying to read tea leaves. We do our best to deliver some useful tea leaves to our DBW audience.
I make no pretension here to telling you all you’ll hear at DBW (which would be bad business even if I were able to do it!) But here is a roster of the data presentations and a small taste of what the DBW audience is going to get from each one.
We’ll start off with James McQuivey of Forrester Research doing a reprise of a high-level survey of publishing executives that they inaugurated at DBW 2011. Forrester got good participation in the survey, including getting fully filled-out responses from at least two of the Big Six executives.
One very interesting fact from the Forrester research is that the consensus for when the trade business will become 50% digital has moved up from 2015 to 2014. When Forrester announced the original number at DBW 2011, it seemed to many to be aggressive. A year later, it is not likely that the new prediction that it will come sooner is going to surprise a lot of people. We are apparently now used to the accelerating pace of change, but perhaps just in time to have to readjust to it slowing down. (More on that to follow.)
The team of the Milan office of A.T.Kearney (the big global consulting firm) and the Italian ebook retailer Bookrepublic have been tracking the spread of digital reading worldwide. They presented research at last year’s IfBookThen conference in Milan and followed it up with additional research presented at the Publishers Launch conference in Frankfurt. They’ve extended their investigation further — about devices, about internet purchasing, about ebook uptake, market-by-market around the world — for this year’s Digital Book World. They have added questions about self-publishing and piracy to the research they did previously and responses to them will be reported at Digital Book World.
One insight they’ve had is extremely provocative. They say, “We should stop thinking of self-publishing simply as a nice way for indie authors to be published. Viewed another way, measuring self-publishing activity calculates the amount of money Amazon (and others) are no longer sharing with publishers. And it’s growing.”
The data that will justify that insight will be part of the presentation we’ll see at Digital Book World.
We decided to take an intensive look at the romance genre because it is often considered to be the consumer segment that has moved most rapidly into the digital future. We were fortunate to enlist the help of the ebook retailer AllRomanceEbooks.com in our investigation. They circulated a survey that got responses from almost six thousand of their customers. The results of that survey will be announced at DBW and will be followed by a panel discussion with special attention to what other genres and segments of trade publishing can learn from what has happened in the romance market.
What caught my eye from the preliminary results was that only 4% of the ebooks All Romance sells have DRM. Since they carry the ebooks of all the major publishers, and all of those have DRM, what this statistic tells us is what a vast business exists in romance publishing outside the realm of the biggest players in the industry. I’ll leave the analysis to the experts we’ll have on stage for this discussion, but I personally wouldn’t leap to the conclusion that DRM-free is the only reason that 96% of the sales were of that category. Those books are undoubtedly cheaper as well. They may score higher on All Romance’s unique “flame” scoring system (which is all about how frequent and explicit the sex scenes are). But I would imagine that any big publisher hearing that statistic would, at the very least, have its curiosity piqued.
It turns out that a big component of All Romance’s sales success is that they took it upon themselves to add sub-categories describing romance — such as that flame index referred to above — that didn’t exist in the industry’s BISAC standard. That’s metadata!
Metadata isn’t ever going to be a “sexy” subject but it is certainly becoming an increasingly popular one. Our early polling of Digital Book World registrants indicates that our breakout session on metadata might be the most heavily-attended of the 30 breakouts on the schedule. (And everybody who goes will be glad they did. We just reviewed the content of the session with presenters Bill Newlin and Fran Toolan; it’s going to be great!)
Having been told for months and years that good metadata enables sales and bad metadata prevents them, I wanted to get some factual confirmation of that. So I asked Jonathan Nowell, the UK-based head of BookScan and the bibliographic source BookData, if he could do some research to connect the two (his being the only organization that has the information to tie metadata to sales data.) Jonathan did a presentation on this subject for Publishers Launch Frankfurt; he’s updating it for Digital Book World.
The most arresting takeaway last October at the Frankfurt presentation was that adding “enhanced metadata” elements to a basket of backlist books not only stopped their normal sales decay, it reversed it and actually made sales of those books rise after the metadata was improved. Everybody will really be able to visualize the importance of metadata after they hear Jonathan’s presentation.
Verso Media is an advertising agency with high digital consciousness and a deep interest in book purchasing and consumption habits. They survey book consumers looking for insights about the digital changeover. The single most startling takeaway for me from the preliminary results I saw from this year’s research is that the number of people who actually resist the idea of reading digitally has gone up from 49% to 51% of respondents. This data point is in line with other tea leaves that suggest that we might have started to hit real resistance to ebooks, slowing down the digital switchover from the rates of the past few years. And that certainly would not have been what I would have predicted. Jack McKeown, who has held senior positions at three major publishing houses, oversees the Verso research and will present it.
At our Publishers Launch “Children’s Books Go Digital” show on Monday, Conference Chair Lorraine Shanley recruited two trend analysts who are offering interesting trend and data observations of their own.
Amy Henry, VP of Youth Beat, observes that parents and kids are sharing personal experiences more than we remember from our youth. More than 2/3 of teenagers listen to music with their parents! The takeaway is that parents can be marketing conduits to their kids; they’re not just gatekeepers you need to sneak your way past, which is how they have often been characterized in the past.
Ira Mayer, Publisher of Youth Market Alerts, delivers data that tells us that two-thirds of the apps Moms get for their kids are either free or under a buck. Fewer than 10% are more than $3. These are sobering facts, but anybody entering the app space to make money better know them!
Kelly Gallagher, Vice-President in charge of research at Bowker, will have important data to share at both shows. His team has been surveying a pool of book purchasers on behalf of BISG for a couple of years and has charted the growth of the ebook market for the industry throughout that time. The data he’ll be reporting from the latest fielding is so fresh that it misses the deadline for this post. But it would seem likely that the data will show that the ebook switchover is finally slowing down after about five years of doubling or more than doubling annually. That would be of meaningful interest to everybody in trade publishing and would tend to confirm Verso’s finding that the point of more determined ebook resistance grows nearer.
Bowker also runs a study of the children’s book market and he will share appropriate data from that research at the Pub Launch show on Monday. Kelly showed me a couple of slides that suggest that young children’s print could be around for a while. Parents like the idea that a book isolates kids from what are otherwise constant digital stimuli. And what attracts kids to digital is portability (having access to more titles) which, broadly speaking, is more important as kids get older. And he’ll reprise that data presentation at Digital Book World on Tuesday, followed by a panel discussion among participating publishers in the study, including Disney, Scholastic, and HarperCollins. That discussion will be moderated by Kristen McLean, founder of Bookigee and former executive director of the Association of Booksellers for Children.
I don’t mean to suggest that data is all we do at our conferences, or even most of what we do. It isn’t. But we see it as part of our job to encourage the development of original information, such as we did in conjunction with All Romance and Nielsen, as well as to deliver information from efforts already underway within the industry, like the reports we’ll get from Bowker.
Digital Book World will also feature main-stage presentations from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo which we expect will also be data-rich (as well as one on business model experimentation from Oren Teicher of the American Booksellers Association), helping us all understand what happened this past Christmas. Keeping up with this pace of change is hard enough; doing it without data is impossible.