In God We Trust, All Others Must Bring Data

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

big data publishing Andrew Rhomberg Jellybooks DBW15“In God we trust, all others must bring data” is a line attributed to statistician William E. Deming and was first uttered almost half a century ago.

Publishers today talk with great urgency about improving data-backed decision making, but the truth is data has long been used to inform book publishing. Many a publisher has consulted Nielsen BookScan before determining whether to bid for a book and what the size of the advance should be.

However, it is equally true that book publishing is still an industry governed largely by instinct, personal experience and subjective judgments of what might catch on. In many ways publishing has been and continues to be a lottery.

Nor is publishing poised to become a predictable business. It’s too chaotic–because human taste is so fickle. We can’t predict what will become a best-seller any more than we can predict what the weather will be like on a certain afternoon a month from now. However, modern science has improved the reliability of most weather forecasts, and it’s now possible to tell several days in advance if a hurricane will be threat, for example.

The media business has gone through one hell of a digital transformation, and one of the side effects is that more data is now being generated and stored than ever before. This is data that could be harnessed to make better publishing decisions.

Related: Dispelling Myths about Big Data in Publishing

Much of that data is not readily available. Amazon does not share data on reading. Access to the full Twitter fire hose is pricey, but in a workshop at Digital Book World 2015, five speakers share ways how to collect data and make better publishing decisions.

“Big data” is a buzzword that has almost no meaning in publishing today, but data-driven publishing is here. It is in its infancy, but it is very likely to have a huge influence over future workflows and emerging practices in digital publishing.

Join me at Digital Book World 2015 to learn more in an intensive workshop on Tuesday, January 13th called “Data, Analytics and Algorithms in Publishing.” The workshop has recently expanded to feature five dealing with the following:

  • Monitoring Social Media to Inform Publishing Decisions
    presented by Jaimee Callaway, Digital Marketing Director, Perseus Books Group
  • Building a Reader Data Model
    presented by Susan Ruszala, President, NetGalley
  • Reader Analytics for Undertaking Virtual Focus Groups
    presented by Andrew Rhomberg, Founder, Jellybooks
  • SEO and Keyword Research for Better Book marketing
    presented by Peter McCarthy, Co-founder, The Logical Marketing Agency
  • Optimizing Amazon and other Data for Improved Sales
    presented Josh Brody, CEO, Vook and Alison Horton, Marketing Associate, Vook

There a still a handful of places remaining. It’s not too late to sign up.

2 thoughts on “In God We Trust, All Others Must Bring Data

  1. tim higgins

    “In God we trust, all others must bring data” is a line attributed to statistician William E. Deming and was first uttered almost half a century ago.

    Do you have a source for the quotation?
    [\first uttered almost half a century ago\ implies you have a source]
    I cannot find it in any of his writings. I am looking for its source.

    Trevor Hastie, Robert Tibshirani, and Jerome Friedman, co-authors of The Elements of
    Statistical Learning in their Preface to the Second Edition have a foot note which reads: \On the Web, this quote has been widely attributed to both Deming and Robert W. Hayden; however Professor Hayden told us that he can claim no credit for this quote, and ironically we could find no ‘data’ confirming Deming actually said this.\

    I too have no such evidence.

    The quote seems to contradict some of what I have found in his writings. I am interested in the context in which he made the statement (if he did). The people I know who worked closely with Deming never heard him say it, and at least one claims he never would have said it.


    Two examples (of many) in his writings that seem in conflict with the statement follow, both from the pages of the Second Edition of The New Economics.

    P 35 “The magnitudes of the most important losses from action or inaction by management are unknown and unknowable (Lloyd S. Nelson; see Out of the Crisis, p. 20). We must nevertheless learn how to manage these losses.”
    He seems to be saying that the most important data cannot be captured AND that we need to learn to manage despite our lack of data.

    Later he states we need to be guided by theory.

    P 63 ”A simple example is training. The only immediate evidence is its cost, expense. The effect of training will not be realized for months or even years in the future. Moreover, the effect can not be measured.
    Then why does a company spend money for training? Because the management believe that there will in the future be benefits that far outweigh the cost. In other words, the management are guided by theory, not by figures. They are wise.”

  2. Andrew Rhomberg


    I was aware of the discussion around this topic at the time owriting and read and linked to this Wikipedia article as part of preparing the post:

    The dilemma is that the quotation is generally “attributed” to William E. Denning (as written int he post), with him taking no credit for it. The dillemma is that there is no source or attribution for what is essentially a misquotation, so I stuck with the geranlly perceive attribution and rather than no attribution at all.

    I also quite deliberated said “attributed”, not “said by”. Semantics you might say, but as this was not a dicussion on the quite itself, I thought that this was the most appropriate thing to do.




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