Big Data: what is it and what do we do with it?

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We’ve all heard people talking about ‘Big Data’. Some are excited by it and some are confused by it, but what exactly is it? Wikipedia defines it as ‘a collection of data sets so large and complex that it becomes difficult to process using on-hand database management tools or traditional data processing applications’. If you’re still confused, or even more excited, read on to find out what Inspired Selection heard about at the @urbanonetwork event, with speaker Francine Bennett @fhr from @MastadonC.

Up until recently, we have been used to receiving and understanding data in a structured form, in spreadsheets or SQL. However, we now live in a world where we receive data from a diverse range of sources and often in a constant stream. In other words, imagine that businesses have gone from reviewing all data in an Excel sheet to receiving it as a Facebook Homepage, with links to other sites and images connected to comments from other social networks. Businesses might have access to what people are buying, what they’ve looked at but discarded, what their shopping history is and how they’re shopping. Big Data is the idea that we have so much data, from so many sources, that we need new ways of looking at it to be able to discover things about the data subjects (usually consumers) and to predict what they might do next.

Francine introduced some of the new ways, including software such as Hadoop, advanced analytics, text mining, machine learning and network analysis all of which allow the business or analyst to view the combined data sets from a new angle and derive findings. Different publishers may be using or considering different methods but many of them will be thinking about how to use sales data to inform product development or sales strategies. What do we know about buying behaviour to make us sell more? In an industry where more and more, we’re seeing a ‘consumer as king’ market, it is crucial that publishers utilise the data they have at their fingertips wisely.

We’re in an environment where lots more data exists and where storing and analysing it is cheaper. This will inevitably give rise to new opportunities for insight and revenue growth but when handling consumer data we must use it cleverly and with their best interests at heart.


New Business Models in a Digital World – Byte the Book

Last night we gathered once again at the gorgeous Ivy Club to hear from Rebecca Smart (Osprey Books), Richard Kilgarriff (Bookomi), John Bond (White Fox) and Michael Bhaskar (Profile Books) to hear their take on how Business Models have adapted with the onset of digital.


e-Publishing has changed everything; we have found that publishers can produce things quicker, cheaper and are made more widely available to larger markets. However, publishing at its core remains the same and solves the problem of getting content to readers. Throughout history the way this has been achieved has evolved; obstacles such as the price of paper, making and distributing books has disappeared in the wake of new obstacles such as free content online and consumers favouring digital technology to access content.

With this in mind, publishing is adapting to a consumer orientated world with publishers focussing on how the content is being read and by whom rather than how it’s being written and by whom. A fantastic example of this is at Osprey where everything they do is centred on the reader; even before the internet they were engaging with their readership in order to understand what content they want. This is being made easier by the amount of data that is readily available and accessible; we can see who is buying what and when and how they’re engaging with the content. Companies like Amazon champion this model; they are immersed in making money and using data to link readers with content. Behind every success story there will always be those who suffer and in this case it is the high street and independent book shops as they’re forced to lower their prices in competition with online sales.

Having established that publishing is now driven by the reader; the panel took this a step further and explained how content could become a reader experience and a service. For example, airlines could offer books on flights to substitute the complimentary film facility; in this case the literature is more than just a story – it is offering a service to the consumer. This is the model that the Professional and STM industry have been using for several years, pushing out content to people in order to offer a tailored service. Whilst this isn’t a new business model altogether we are now seeing how the impact of digital is making the trade sector operate in this way.

With this in mind, what is the new business model for publishing? There is no one right answer as it is a constantly evolving machine; the business model will always be about getting content from authors to readers but the way this content is delivered will always be evolving. The model will always be a beautiful streamlined process from the outside, but the inside might take some renovation. Alistair Horne summed it perfectly; The business model is not broken, just fragmented and will take time and innovation to adapt to the new technologies and new consumer demands of our age.