Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.
As e-reading continues to spread, online reader communities to thrive and self-publishing and social reading platforms to develop, you’d think information about who’s reading what and how would be easier to come by.
You’d be wrong. The book business is notoriously short on freely available data about its consumers. The proliferation of things to read and ways to read them has arguably made it even scarcer. And so far, ebook retailers haven’t proven too eager to change that.
Retailers like Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Apple hold most of the cards in this game. For the good of publishers and readers alike, they should be much more forthcoming about reader data.
Demand for such information seems to intensify in proportion to the ebook market’s growth. Editors, marketers, distributors and everyone in between are under increasing pressure to base their decisions on hard data that isn’t always there. Publishers’ fixation on data led one executive earlier this year to compare it jokingly to “teenagers talking about how many girlfriends they have.” The stir self-published author Hugh Howey caused in February when he released a highly contested set of figures about what authors earn from ebook sales highlighted, among much else, just how little anyone knows for certain about ebook sales.
Some of that is already changing. Amazon and a number of self-publishing platforms provide authors with metrics to gauge how well their titles perform. Just last month, Vook bought the stats-running start-up Booklr and folded the latter’s analytical toolkit into its ebook publishing platform.
Meanwhile, Digital Book World’s own ebook best-seller list remains one of the few comprehensive measures of ebook sales week-to-week, and it’s continually adjusted to fit best-guess changes in retailers’ relative market shares.
Until more of that information becomes available, many in the publishing world are left to rely on precedent, strategic gambles and gut instincts. Those aren’t bad methods in their own rights, but it can be frustrating if they’re among the only ones to live or die by.
One area it can be helpful to turn to for snapshots of readers’ interests is the range of web destinations and communities that have sprung up in recent years. From authors’ Facebook pages to user-driven forums to popular book blogs, readers now have more meeting places than ever before to talk about what they’re reading, engage with authors and register their likes and dislikes.
That’s one reason Digital Book World is teaming up with The Huffington Post Books for a webcast on April 30th to investigate what ebook readers are reading. HuffPo’s Maddie Crum will be joined by fellow book blog editors Rebecca Schinsky of Book Riot and Isaac Fitzgerald of BuzzFeed to offer insights on what the readers in their respective audiences are excited about, how they engage online and what could be driving any changes ahead. Digital Book World’s editorial director Jeremy Greenfield will moderate the hour-long discussion, weighing DBW’s best-seller data with the panelists’ observations.
It should offer an all-too-rare opportunity to probe increasingly critical questions for authors, editors, agents and publishers alike. Until retailers decide it’s in their interest, too, to share more data with the other players concerned, informal investigations like this will have to suffice. At least that’s something many in the book world are already accustomed to.