A Publisher’s Dream

The publishing industry has been through many big changes in, especially with the rise in popularity of ebooks and buying books from Amazon. Customer data a very useful tool in the publishing industry. If I were a publisher, data about reader’s data would be the most effective data for the company.

Gathering readers’ data especially their behavior and interactions with the book and knowing what readers find engaging and what they do not can help us as publishers unlock previously hidden assets within our publishing lists. We have seen a lot of books that got rejected at first because the publisher did not think it would sell but later ended up on the bestseller list. This can happen when there is not enough data for the publisher to make an informed decision. Therefore, the reader’s insights can help publishers understand their readers better and thus make better new editions of books and improve the quality of the books taking user input into account. User data can give us more information about which authors and genres we should invest more time in. It also helps in gaining market insights by acknowledging which types of books are running out of steam; if there is any problem with a book itself, the reader’s data will help us identify exactly where it is. By knowing where and when they stopped and continued reading  It will give us opportunities to make a decision regarding the publishing content. This can help paint a detailed picture, allowing publishers to predict future book purchases and forecast sales and predict bestseller list–every publisher’s dream!

The main concern we have as publishers is getting customers’ data without breaching their privacy. As I always mention, transparency is the key. We should be very clear with our customers on how we are tracking and collecting their data. This model will allow us to retain customers and attract new ones. . Even if, as a publisher, we are not collecting the data ourselves and we receive it from another party (what we see in most cases in the publishing world), we should not resell or share any private information.

Collecting data is crucial for business survival, yet there is no clear way to implement it without breaching anyone’s privacy. Taking into consideration how recent the use of data in business models, it seems we are in the trial and error phase. Companies are trying to use data in many different ways, some are failing and others are succeeding. I think that the next phase will allow businesses to collect data in an easy manner while being honest with the customer. But for now, as publishers, we should take the initiative to be transparent with users by giving them the option to provide their data or refuse to do so.

All Hands on Deck: Government Intervention in Data Privacy

Capitalism is so embedded in the way in which our modern North American society operates, impacting all of the transactions and interactions that we have with companies. Big corporations worth billions of dollars have such an incredibly strong sway in what happens in the marketplace, that it seems nearly impossible for an individual or small group to lobby and influence how they do business. In order to gain hold of our data privacy and stop the momentum of surveillance capitalism, change will need to happen at the institutional level. We need to get the government involved.

The data privacy issue continues to grow as more and more details come out about the seemingly endless data that is able to be mined about us right down to our exact travel path on a daily basis (plus our search history, files of all kinds from texts, photos and voice messages, and the list goes on). Unfortunately, I am not the slightest bit surprised when confronted with the amount of information that tech giants like Google and Facebook collect about us. The technology that we use in our daily lives (phones, smart watches, apps, social media platforms etc.) is so interconnected, easily trackable and constantly backed up to servers. We appreciate these services when they help us access information that we want to store like our emails and anything we choose to put into the cloud like documents and photos. We also want instant access to the data of our friends and family (and sometimes even strangers) through our social media accounts and we willingly input data into these services on a daily basis. Our input helps these tech companies create ever more robust platforms that continually learn more and more about us.

What we are much less comfortable with is the data that we don’t see and how that data is ultimately being used. For the most part, our data is being used for capital gains. When it comes to data collection, I believe it’s important to remember that we as users are not really the ultimate customers of services like Facebook and Google. Yes, they have to deliver on some promises in order for people still want to use their services, but ultimately these tech giants are serving the needs of advertisers rather than the readers, browsers and users of their platforms. The bigger they get the more advertising dollars they can bring in.

The tech giants are out to dominate their industries and claim the lion’s share of their markets and they do so by cashing in on more new tech. Giant corporations scoop up new ways of gathering data and tracking users by investing in their own research and development or by buying smaller tech startups (see a list of acquisitions that Facebook has made here) who have tapped into something of interest. Because of their sheer financial power to dominate over other businesses and bully the market, the government is required to step in. 

It is quite interesting to note that even Mark Zuckerberg himself feels that it’s important for data to be regulated, but the big issue remains, how? There are a few examples of cases where the the government has stepped in, such as the California Consumer Privacy Act which was passed in 2018. The three major tenants are:

1. You will have the right to know what information large corporations are collecting about you.
2. You will have the right to tell a business not to share or sell your personal information.
3. You will have the right to protections against businesses which do not uphold the value of your privacy.”

It’s hard to tell presently how well this is working in the state of California, but it shows that passing this type of law is something that people are very interested in doing (even if the big tech giants strongly opposed the bill). But it is these tech giants, and their seemingly unlimited funds, who need to be stopped and the government can’t let them just throw bunch of money around to try to stop the regulations.

We still have a lot of work to do in Canada as the Privacy Commissioner stated that they don’t have the funding they need to adequately protect Canadians against privacy issues. We as citizens need to get more involved to keep pushing our law makers. A new privacy law now ensures that Canadian companies have to let their customers know when their data has been leaked, but what recourse do we have once it’s been leaked? That clearly isn’t good enough.

It’s very easy to feel disenfranchised when you see that corporate giants like Amazon are buddies with the government bodies like the Department of Justice for example, but it is still important that we continue to push law makers for better protection. In reference to this Mike Shatzkin article (via hypothes.is), SFU Master of Publishing student Jaiden Dembo stated “If law can be put in place to help these behemoths grow and dominate the market, then the opposite can be true as well.” Though there is a lot of muddy water to sift through when it comes to data protection and change will take time, it’s something that’s worth fighting for.

 

To the Tracking Train!

Data tracking is not the distant future. It is happening now. Companies are realizing its usefulness and they are using Big Data to their advantage in all sorts of fields, from grocery stores to healthcare to cannabis. So far, publishing seems a little late to the game. But why? Are we scared of tracking’s use cases? Are we intimidated by the technology? Maybe the solution to this lies in getting the old guys out of the business and hiring young, tech-savvy people. But that’s a discussion for another day. The point is, avoiding tracking in our line of work is not the answer. If we can harness the power of Big Data tracking, the industry will be better off for it.

In a previous blog post I talked about Crimson Hexagon and how they are analyzing social media conversations to better understand their customers’ customers. I still believe social media is the best way to do this because it gives us a peek into an audience’s real likes and dislikes. We don’t have to stick to the scope of what our audience likes in a book; if we can determine our reader’s general interests, we are able to offer them a book they will truly like, including a book they themselves didn’t even know they needed!

We don’t read books in a vacuum. There is always something going on around us that influences how we feel about a book. Consider a reader with an emotional connection to a children’s book they read when they were young. If we analyze reading habits, we can find out that they like this book, but even if they still like this book as an adult, they won’t necessarily like other children’s books, even with similar stories. Something about that particular book is special to them. By analyzing the environment of a reader’s likes and dislikes we can pinpoint why people like certain books. Imagine being able to provide someone with their childhood nostalgia from an entirely new book! We are maybe not quite at that point yet, but by analyzing the surrounding personality of a reader, we can get even closer.

People talk to their friends and family and in Facebook communities and forums. They share things they find funny and thought-provoking. They check in online to locations that they visit every day. They share content with each other that is so that person. We already know that word of mouth is one of the best ways to promote a book, now we just have to start looking where this word of mouth marketing is actually happening these days. It is not useful for publishers to avoid using tracking technologies. We already know that it is helping companies develop more robust plans of action in plenty of industries. By harnessing the power of social media tracking we can become better in our acquisitions and in developing a focused and formidable niche. Avoiding this tracking simply because we don’t fully understand it is not a viable business solution. We have to act on it now to avoid becoming obsolete.

A Fistful of Data: Franco Moretti and the stuplime experience of big data

In the past few years, the digital humanities have become one of the sexier modes of literary study in the academy. The merging of scientific processes of inquiry and the art of subjective, qualitative study has been embodied in the work of Franco Moretti, professor of English at Stanford University and founder of the Stanford Literary Lab. Moretti is part of the vanguard of the digital humanities, striking forward with equal parts innovative method and charisma. In many ways, the digital humanities have become synonymous with Moretti’s name and his work, which has included Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for a Literary History (2005) and Distant Reading (2013), among others. Moretti’s scientific approach to literature has sparked a discussion on big data and what it means to use quantitative studies in the humanities. His work has involved looking at thousands of titles of literature and analyzing the meta data from those titles; he has analyzed relationships between characters over time, changing title lengths during a constrained period, and has created visualization maps to illustrate his findings. The digital humanities and the use of big data to analyze literature have been critiqued in the academy, but what is our emotional reaction to this big data, as an initial instinct rather than as a slowly formed intellectual opinion? This paper will explore the use of big data in the digital humanities and how this big data results in an emotional response akin to awe and boredom. Our confrontation with big data results in the experience of what Sianne Ngai calls “stuplimity,” a term that will be further defined later, but which explains the complex emotional response to something both sublime and tedious. This response to literature’s big data is not caused by the individual texts themselves, but rather by the enormity of the data as a whole. It also inspires a sense of reverential respect for the individual partaking in the data collection: are digital humanists the new heroes, traversing untravelled frontiers? Finally, I will consider how the collectors and “scientists” of big data are heroes of tedium, uncovering new information about the study of the humanities through means of qualitative formalism.

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