My blog post from last week discussed some specific questions I had in regards to tracking reader habits. So, this week, I want to discuss something more behind the scenes of tracking—metadata.
A couple weeks ago, our class discussed the metadata behind books, but what about the metadata behind the readers? In an article on the Publishing Perspectives blog, the owner of Jellybooks Andrew Rhomberg talks about some of the reader data they collect: “Do they open the book? Do they finish the book? Do they read the book during their commute or do they read on weekends? Do they read the book fast, do they read it slow?” and many other questions are listed, questions that Jellybooks aims to answer with their reader tracking software.
These are great questions to answer, and I can definitely see how the answers to such questions would help publishers make more informed decisions about what books to publish, and when. However, I think a lot is left out by excluding the metadata of readers. Questions like “Do they read the book during their commute or do they read on weekends?” implies that Jellybooks knows when people are on their commute, but those who work on weekends could be reading on their commute and their reading time would count as weekend reading.
People who read using ereaders know that their reading progress is being tracked. (It would be in the terms and conditions, and even if they do not read the T&Cs it should be obvious to the average person.) If Jellybooks and other reader tracking software companies collected metadata from their readers to specify their collected data, I think they would get a lot more useful, specific information. They could start with a reader survey, asking questions such as: When are you most often commuting to work / school? What are your most common days off? Are you generally a slow reader or a fast reader? These questions can help to narrow down and specify the data already being collected and help publishers and booksellers to better know their customers.
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.