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.

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The Role of a Commissioning Editor

So what does a Commissioning Editor really do? Last night we attended the Women in Publishing event at the Hotel Strand Continental to hear Rukhsana Yasmin from Saqi and Kirsty Schaper from Bloomsbury talk about their experience as Commissioning Editors and tell us a little more about the tools and skills you really need to make the job a success.

Kirsty began her working life abroad teaching English as a foreign language; she came back to the UK and got a job at Continuum as an Editorial Assistant and worked her way up from there before making the move to work on the Sports non-fiction list at A & C Black, now Bloomsbury. It was really interesting to hear about the difference between commissioning for Academic and for Trade; with Academic publishing you can identify the persons qualifications and have their work peer reviewed but with Trade it becomes far more risky, you must quantify the qualifications of your authors within their field of expertise but also assess factors like marketability; Do they have a blog/twitter? How well known are they? Can they market their own brand? The most exciting thing about commissioning is finding an author who can become a bestseller.

Rukhsana came into publishing through an Arts Council programme to increase Diversity in Publishing through Saqi Books, she found that working in a smaller publisher gave her a wealth of experience and knowledge to take forward into her next role at Profile where she commissioned her first book; she is now Commissioning Editor for Saqi’s newly formed Westbourne Press and won the Kim Scott Walwyn prize last year.

A huge part of the role is market research and finding out where your competition is; this might involve doing focus groups or spending a lot of time on the internet (and trying not to get too distracted). Author care is also hugely important, you need to be able to nurture relationships but also be quite firm and ensure that the author is delivering on time in order to get the book published on schedule which also relies on the expertise and backing of other departments.

When choosing a proposal to commission, there are several things to consider:

–          What does a good proposal look like?

–          Structural breakdown

–          Target market

–          Are there any competing titles out there?

You must also consider whether the author can actually write and communicate their ideas effectively and whether the book is going to be commercially viable for your target market.

It is important to remember that publishing is still a business, as a Commissioning Editor you must be both creative and commercially minded and remember that the market is changing all the time; for example with the advance of digital – whilst eBooks are important, they are still only a small percentage of the market; people are drawn to what stands out, if you can turn a book into a beautiful object, people will buy them.

It seems that the role of a Commissioning Editor is hugely varied; it is both creative and commercial as well as relying enormously on building relationships and doing your research. Sometimes there is an element of risk taking but this is backed up by your market knowledge and the support from the rest of your team, and the best thing is that it could just be the gamble that pays off…