#FutureChat recap: Torchin' for books data

#FutureChat recap: Torchin' for books data

Nobody came forward to say we have too much books data. The fact that we cannot see the size and shape of the publishing industry today, however, strikes some as more problematic than others. And shortly after The FutureBook.net community's #FutureChat on the problem of missing data, I was reminded once more of how many folks don't even realize that we're in the dark. Writing here about the first recruitment efforts of the London-based digital author-services start-up Reedsy, I found DC Thomson Ventures' Nick Verkroost saying, "In the UK alone, self-publishing accounts for 20 percent of all ebooks." Well, actually, Verkroost doesn't know that. Which is not to say that he doesn't believe he knows that. He probably thinks he knows. At the least, he probably thinks somebody knows. But, in fact, none of us knows the size or scope of self-publishing today, nor do we know how many ebooks there are in the marketplace nor authors grinding them out. This is because we have neither the sales data nor the consistent use of content-tracking identifiers (ISBNs) to tell us how many ebooks there are out there. We're all guessing. And depending on your point of view, that's nothing to worry about or it's a sorry state of affairs. Here, for example, is the kind of comment you hear from many in the self-publishing world whose interest isn't on quantifying and understanding the evolving bookish marketplace: And here is the countervailing view, certainly typical of those of us in the press for whom being able to assess and describe the market is important: In fact, The Bookseller's Philip Jones would get off the best comment of the day: And when we talk about the dearth of data on the ebook market, we're actually referring to two problems -- major retailers withholding sales data and many self-publishing authors not using ISBNs, the standardized identifier for books. The latter, the ISBN issue, is actually a bit easier to discuss -- less a black hole than the lockdown of ebook sales data as proprietary policy of corporate secrecy. For example, Arizona-based author Jami Gold made the point heard frequently from the entrepreneurial writing community -- the "what's in it for me?" line: Some of us would cordially suggest that what's in it for them is a better understanding of their industry and their place in it. But it's probably logical that some self-publishing authors, who may feel themselves to be standing in opposition to the established industry in one way or another, aren't eager to participate in evaluating it or their place in it. Tim Lewis of London looks for more services as an incentive: No one seemed to want to hold his or her breath: In terms of sales data, Reedsy's Ricardo Fayet in London, Nathan Hall in West Palm Beach, and Carla Douglas in Toronto engaged in a tri-national exchange about the potential for data to wag the dog: David Neal of Colorado and New Zealand said he thinks self-published output may lessen ahead -- perhaps not the view the most ardent self-publishers may like hearing: Hodder assistant digital editor Caleb Woodbridge in London noted that if Amazon and other major retailers made ebook sales data more freely available, there could be issues of privacy to contend with: Chris Lynch in Cardiff speculated: Jones in London put his finger on one of the most interesting elements of this debate, something many of us noticed in the digital disruption of news, albeit with alarm: the digital dynamic generates both the potential and the demand for data. For example, when adverts are printed in a newspaper, that newspaper's ad-sales department can simply tell an advertiser, "Your ad was seen by 400,000 subscribers this week." But digital offers the opportunity for actual click-tracking -- the advertiser can ask for and get precise counts in real time on how many clicks an advert is getting, along with "stickiness" (how long the user views the ad), whether there's click-through from the advert, and so on. And as data becomes a near-currency in a market starved for information about itself, confusion is easily triggered amidst the best efforts to mitigate the situation: In Eugene, Oregon, Abby Quillen spoke up for the Author Earnings programme of quarterly reports from the States put together by the author and activist Hugh Howey: In Los Angeles, our early-morning colleague James Scott Bell worried aloud about writers' focus on data=issues: US-based publisher Jake Parent concurred: What kept coming into view was a range of constituencies and potentially competing interests that hallmarks so many discussions in publishing today. Claudia Christian in Denver noted that large corporate interests -- she said publishers but I'd include the major retailers -- are under vital constraints: While North Caroina-based author Elizabeth Spann Craig had joined us after posting a useful discussion, Readers and Self-Pub, about some of the limitations she encounters in trying to track her readership without better data, especially in terms of their online and brick-and-mortar buying habits: And throughout the conversation, the ISBN and the author-pays system used in the UK and the US -- while in some countries including Canada and France, the government picks up the tab -- continued to rankle some of our #FutureChat-ers, including Roz Morris in London: Still, many -- including our unidentified friends who tweet as BookNet Canada pointed out, the ISBN remains the only universally viable identifier to date: And right back to Jones' joke about an appeal to Authors United, the session was crowded with quips about various paths to agitation: And once more, we'd spent a good hour and more with thoughtful, lively but respectful discussion. Always rewarding, the tone of friendly exchange in our #FutureChat sessions. Another comes up on Friday, please join us. ;
Join us each Friday for a #FutureChat session with The Bookseller’s FutureBook community. We’ll be live on Twitter, at 4 p.m. London time, 11 a.m. New York time, 8 a.m. Los Angeles, 5 p.m. Berlin, 3 p.m. GMT.   Authors, if you're doing an event or signing in the UK in the next few weeks, please email sarah.shaffi@TheBookseller.com   FutureBook Innovation AwardsThe entry period for the 2014 Bookseller The FutureBook Innovation Awards (#FBIA2014) ends Friday, 12th September - hurry if you'd like to nominate a company or person in our annual celebration, this year with nine award categories. Sponsorship by Frankfurt Book Fair and ePubDirect.     The FutureBook basicRegistration now is open for The FutureBook Conference 2014 -- 14th November at Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, Westminster. (#FutureBook14)     The Bookseller Children's Conference 2014Seats are still available for The Bookseller Children's Conference, 25th September at Southbank Centre. (#kidsconf14)
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