What publishers really should acknowledge and deal with: the overwhelming power of data

In his article from 2014, Shatzkin says that Google and Ingram “have a robust and accurate database of book metadata which, if combined with Google’s data and search mastery… could challenge Amazon effectively” (2014). This topic of metadata collection and the power of data more generally, keeps bubbling up in various tech debates. It was this area of discussion that most stuck with me from the summit as well. And yet, the power that data is proving to provide is rarely the overwhelming center of the discussion in any one of these articles/debates. As with Shatzkin’s article, it is brought into the argument to strengthen another point, but then is not dwelt upon for long.

To me, the significance of data collection is being underplayed. This is the key to power for online giants such as Google and Facebook as well as book companies like Kobo. And it cannot be taken for granted as we discuss other issues surrounding it. Without the data they collect and the smart strategies they employ to manipulate that data, they would not be as powerful as they are.

In our book summit this January, it became clear that the publishers, physical book retailers and online ebook retailers could all equally benefit from a better understanding of each other’s data use and what it means for their respective businesses. However, it is the publisher in particular who easily finds himself in a place of disadvantage since they are one of the few players in the book game that don’t collect data themselves. In this respect, publishers are at the mercy of the retailers (such as Kobo, Indigo and Amazon), Google, social media engines, and even to some degree BookNet Canada to feed this information to them.

It is this divide – centered around who has access to the data – that is vital to acknowledge.

I think Shatzkin’s point about the potential power of a Google/Ingram cooperation is valid, this consolidation of data teams could do a lot to equal Amazon’s power, but I think an even more valuable lesson that publishers can take from this discussion, is that to become more powerful in this evolving tech savvy world, access to and effective use of data is the key.

This is where publishers need to become creative and do two things, 1) find ways to make friendly relations with those that have this powerful data and 2) learn how to create smart strategies using this data as other companies already have.

This might be one way to better ensure a healthy publishing future. A future where the power balance has shifted to where publishers can finally join in carrying the scepter of power for the 21st century: data.

One Reply to “What publishers really should acknowledge and deal with: the overwhelming power of data”

  1. This was missing the Reading Response tag, so I hadn’t seen it until now, but I wonder how you feel about this topic now that we’ve discussed data so much throughout the res of the term. We certainly made the conversation explicitly about data as the term went on, and perhaps ended up talking too much about it.

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