Publishing’s increased focus on consumer insight and customer data is set to drastically change relationships with authors, informing decisions around acquisitions, contracts and publication itself.
Rufus Weston, insight director at HarperCollins, explained: “Publishers are realising what Amazon realised much earlier: that our own data is a business asset. As physical sales become less important, it is more difficult to use the TCM to calibrate what a successful book or author is.
“We can now look at the social trajectory of a potential acquisition and use that to our advantage to set the advance. We’re seeing authors becoming more data-savvy, and I think we will see a further recognition that data is part of the business process. I can see us asking for a regular amount of tweets from a celebrity as part of their contract, for example.”
Author care will also be further improved by the rise of consumer insight, Weston said, with publishers better equipped to expand author brands through feedback. He added: “We can monitor an author’s interactions on Twitter and then say when is the best time for them to tweet, and who they should be interacting with. It will increasingly become part of the service we offer and [it] will also help to emphasise authors’ obligations for social media.”
Claire Evans, acting marketing director at Transworld, agreed. She said: “We’ve done some really in-depth insight projects for some of our key brand authors to ensure that we are reaching the widest possible pool of readers. We feed the findings back to the authors and discuss what they mean. We have found that some subtle tweaks to some of the communications we have been doing around those authors can pay real dividends in terms of broadening their readership.”
Weston said that insight has also made the sale of books to key retailers easier. “In the past, we might have thought about a Tesco customer and looked to [Tesco] to tell us which books would be useful. We’re now able to go to them and say, ‘we know this author appeals to the segments of customers that use your shop’.”
The big three groups—Hachette, Penguin Random House (PRH) and Transworld—have had bespoke consumer insight for the past few years, but 2014 will see a rise in activity. For David Power, group consumer insight manager at Hachette UK, although consumer insight has always been a fixture of publishing, it has only recently taken a more structured form. The catalyst, he said, “has been the rapid diversification of products and touchpoints that have taken publishing into new areas and new formats. These new opportunities come with their own unique risks and rewards. Our team is in place to hopefully lessen those risks and maximise those rewards.”
This year PRH has combined its teams to focus the business “around the consumer”. Louise Vinter, PRH’s head of consumer insight explained that “data and consumer insight are key tools in informing what we do”. PRH is rolling out “consumer segmentation” across the company—a framework for understanding different consumers that is not restricted to age, gender and genre—and expanding its consumer panel, Bookmarks, which launched last year. This autumn PRH will introduce “several new tools that ensure everyone in the business has direct access to insight”.
Vinter added: “Consumer insight and data will have an [increasing] impact on publishing, particularly on how we’re able to react every day to ensure what we do is relevant to the audiences we want to reach.”
Playing the numbers game
Global publishing powerhouses invest to focus on the end user, but also because they can afford to do so. “Insight divisions are something of an arms race for the bigger groups; if someone has one, you have to as well,” said Matt Haslum, Faber & Faber’s consumer marketing director. “But [insight] is still crucial for smaller publishers. Obviously it’s more difficult for us, and it’s not necessarily about the spend, it’s the man hours. It is fine getting the data but you have to be able to implement it. ”
Chris Jolly, m.d. of education specialist Jolly Learning (JL), said that consumer insight was “under-utilised”: “For a big publisher, [insight] is probably a necessity; for an SME the cost is certainly justified.” JL recently did focus group studies of how it is perceived in the market, and on a new range of products—the findings made it rethink its strategy and even to pull the plug on some of the products. Jolly said: “It was useful. We are often bombarded with numbers but what is underlying, what our customers really think, is often missed.”
Since autumn 2013, Faber has been using ForSight, a “social listening” platform that monitors and analyses social media sites. The tool, created by Boston-based data firm Crimson Hexagon, is available to other indies through Faber Factory.
It is worth noting that even some of the large publishers use external firms.
Since 2012, Pan Macmillan, for example, has employed London-based Nixon McInnes for market analysis and brand management projects. If hiring a large data firm would stretch the budget, there are a wealth of inexpensive options—particularly for social listening platforms—including Klout, Google Analytics and Hootsuite.
Nielsen, which has a significant books insight division, continues to work with all the major publishers. Yet, Nielsen Book Research director Andre Breedt said its insight arm was growing in popularity with SMEs. He added: “The point of entry is pretty low for SMEs, it doesn’t have to be thousands of pounds. We often get a group of publishers in broadly the same sector who essentially club together for a specific piece of research and share the costs.”
Ultimately, Haslum believes that research, appropriately costed, is essential for smaller players. He said: “There is no such thing as a generalist trade publisher anymore. Every book we publish is into niches, so we should think about how best to serve the audience for that book.”
Case study: Nielsen's consumer insight
For independent publishers, the benefits of farming out consumer insight work to large data analytics businesses is that those companies can do the heavy lifting—most smaller publishers simply cannot.
One such company, Nielsen, has had a longstanding insight arm. Its books research was augmented by its 2013 acquisition of a number of Bowker’s analytics divisions. “We have the resources and, of course, the historical data, and we are able to take ‘deep dives’ into the market,” said Nielsen Book Research director Andre Breedt. One of those “deep dives” is Nielsen’s Understanding the Cookbook Consumer, a 2013 report looking at the cookery market. Nielsen segmented cookery consumers—from the “keen” to “ethical” to “foodie”—and the various ways that they are influenced to buy.
Unsurprisingly, cookery fans who said they were “keen” buyers regularly bought books at the greatest rate (73%), but they were joined by those who said they were “adventurous” and “weekend” cookery fans, with “healthy” cookbook buyers close behind (70%).
Nielsen’s ongoing Books & the Consumer survey examines a wealth of information
on the book trade. Above (top left) is an example of research comparing the prompts to buying e-books for self-published and mainstream-published e-books. Price is a driver, of course, but it is far less important for mainstream books (19%) than self-published titles (33%). Meanwhile, author brands are far more crucial for mainstream e-book buyers (34%), than for those who are buying self-published e-books (20%).