Disengagement Data

Data analytics. Data-driven. Big data. Data mining.  Data, data, data. It’s the buzz-word these days in the publishing industry. And for good reason. All our data is being collected – regardless of we’re aware of it or not. Whether it’s through the big three: Facebook, Amazon, Google, or just by loyalty cards at your grocery store or apps to track your fitness. In the Canadian book market, BookNet helps the industry by giving publishers consumer data, metadata from other publishers, and more. It would be silly for a publisher to not capitalize on this wealth of information to try to sell more books and try to survive in a tough market like books.

There’s so much data to scan through and collect. It’s important to identify what exactly would be beneficial for you as a publisher and how you can use that data to improve your services. Personally, if I was a publisher I would want disengagement data. Specifically, I would want data telling me what sections of the text the reader started to disengage. I think this would be an especially useful tool to have in education publishing.

Educational publishers provide students with textbooks, course packs, non-fiction books, educational picture books, etc. If I could get data on when students start to lose focus, skim over passages, get frustrated, or simply lose interest, I could then hopefully make the learning experience much better.  The process of taking complex subjects and translating it to a lay audience can be quite challenging. I saw this issue time and time again in my undergraduate lectures. I had super smart professors that were highly specialized in their fields, however, when it came to deconstructing the material to explain to students in a simple manner, many of them did not do a good job. We would leave lectures feeling confused and frustrated. We would then to turn to textbooks or other reading material that would also fail to help us understand. Sometimes professors can’t be helped. But I think books can be improved – especially because there’s a team of people working on them.

Knowing disengagement data can help publishers, editors, and writers improve their work. In future editions, visuals can be added, paragraphs can be rewritten, chapters can be restructured, supplemental resources can be offered.  This data can also be offered to educators who can see where students are losing touch, and lesson plans can be modified to address these issues. I’m a big believer in that anyone can learn anything if it’s taught properly. Over the past year, I’ve heard many of my peers say they hate numbers or they’re not good at math. I don’t buy it. I think everyone could be good at math. They just need the right learning tools and methods that are suitable for them.

To collect this data in a non-intrusive way I think the most straight forward way would be to ask students. When they buy a textbook or a digital textbook, perhaps they are given the option to highlight or mark up pages or passages that are confusing to them. They can offer suggestions of what other things they’d like to see – maybe more definitions, maybe more diagrams. This would make the learning process more dynamic as well instead of in a one-way direction from teacher/book to student.

The other option would be to tell students they’re tracking their learning process as they go through the book. For example, a digital e-book can inform students at the beginning that their reading process is being monitored and explaining why. Students can then have a choice to opt-out. Offering perks (like a $50 Starbucks card) may motivate students to opt in.

Though I make this sound easy, I’m aware of all the challenges that can arise. It’s expensive to collect your own data… to have the tools and means to do so. Knowing exactly why students disengage can be quite challenging to understand. It can be due to personal learning challenges, it may have to do with their personal history with the topic at hand (maybe they had an awful math teacher that scarred them for life and now they can’t look at a math textbook without puking). The technology might not be there yet either.

Overall, I’m in the opinion that education is the key to most things in life. If there was a way to make teaching tools better, I would jump at the opportunity – while being respectful of peope’s privacy and information.

 

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.