Byte the Book, How can we use technology to understand readers?

On Tuesday evening  we attended our first ‘Byte the Book’ event, held at the beautiful Ivy Club. On the panel were Dan Franklin (Digital Publisher, Random House), Lindsey Mooney (Vendor Manager, Kobo), Andrew Rhomberg (Founder, Jellybooks) and Rufus Weston (Customer Insight Director, HarperCollins); all were there to give us an insight into how these publishers and organisations use technology to better understand their readers. Rufus at HC began by describing the two key methods to understand your readers; you can use conventional market research such as surveys, or you can use consumer data. Rhomberg pointed out how the use of social media technologies has made it easier for people to locate books they want to read. Mooney from Kobo talked about their extensive use of web marketing and web analytics; they can see exactly where a reader has bookmarked a page and this function works across multiple devices. Finally, Dan Franklin reports that Random House, as a large publishing house, has observed the biggest change in how they can monitor people and their experience using their products through data, analytics and apps.

New digital technologies are teaching us many things that we didn’t know before, we are seeing specific behaviours concerning how and when people read books and even at what time of day people buy books. We are also able to see books’ completion rates. An interesting fact from Kobo is that 100% of certain types of erotica are being completed 100% of the time whereas there is certain non-fiction or academic books that may only be finished 50-60% of the time. With this knowledge, retailers and publishers alike are able to recommend books to their users in different ways.

Franklin also spoke about how everyone walking around with devices connected to the Internet has changed things enormously; Twitter is one good example to analyze how people are feeling about the books that are being published. People are becoming more and more vocal online with their consumer opinions, particularly on forums and blogs.

The panel agreed that it is important to note in all of this that possessing data that tells us so much about reader behaviour should begin affecting creative and editorial decisions; it is quite important that decisions reflect consumer preferences.

Romberg discussed that we can now watch what readers are doing rather than what they are saying. This means that it is now possible to disregard how users rate a book, for example on a scale, and rather observe whether they are recommending or sharing their books. Important questions to answer are if people recommend a book, who listens to them? Are they influential?

Mooney from Kobo talks about how experimentation is good for publishers, for example, book covers are hugely important for Kobo in selling books, yet some eBooks still don’t have them.

The final topic was a discussion about how private reading is for the customer and to find out how sensitive publishers are with the use of personal data. Generally the responses from the panel were that of course, the use of personal data is restricted to whether that person has said that they allow the use of data. If people post things publicly then people should be allowed to use this data, and vice versa with personal data. Privacy is important but there is a value exchange that consumers are aware of, for example in return for retweeting a post on Twitter you may get entered into a competition or likewise for Facebook. Reading is very much still private, and possibly even more private now given the masses of e readers which hides any detail to the rest of the public of what you’re reading, but the data that publishers and companies like Kobo get from you reading on an electronic device allows them to enhance your overall reading experience and recommend other things that you may not have considered before.

The key thing to come from this event is that publishers need to use data in the right way in order to get the best result. At the moment, a huge amount of money is being spent to get data that doesn’t necessarily work. It is so important to keep thinking back to the reader and the customer, what does the customer want? Look at the stats, see what works and change what doesn’t.

Overall, technology is enhancing both the publishers knowledge of their readers but also the service that the reader is getting; the ability to hone in and deliver specialised content to millions of e reader users is amazing and will certainly improve our overall experience as customers and readers.

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