The next big thing in books

Leaving aside the thorny linguistic issue of whether the word is singular or plural, data can help publishers increase their readership


I wonder how many writers know how many readers they have, where they are or what is being said about them on social media?

Should writers of fiction take that information into account as they face the empty page? Would it change how they write if they knew that an analysis of their book sales shows their latest book to have been particularly popular among middle-aged women living in rural areas, for example?

Of course not, most would say. Character-driven and not data-driven literature is what works. However, the use and analysis of data have become increasingly important as stories make their way from writer to reader.

Leaving aside the thorny linguistic issue of whether the word data is singular or plural, having access to the relevant data and knowing how to use it is how purveyors of food, drink, clothing and lots more get us to part with our cash. Borrowing from the music industry, where digital data or information about sales and preferences inform marketing, book publishers are beginning to show an interest in data use. A US company that has done this successfully for music, Next Big Sound, is working with Macmillan to build Next Big Book, a system that will gather data every day about book sales, publicity, events, social media, web traffic and web trends.

It is designed to help marketers know when and how a book’s popularity is growing so they can use this information. For example, get that book on the shelf or run ads for it on social media now, because it’s trending on Twitter or being praised on the airwaves.

The fusion of sales and distribution with the web presence makes the difference, it seems. Of course this is a profit-generating exercise, and there’s nothing wrong with that if the author gets a decent share of the benefit. Let us hope it’s not just the behemoths of publishing that will gain, but it will be pitched at a level affordable for smaller publishers.

As for the writers, there will be those who produce for the market, but I hope that those who do not have the sales figures uppermost in their minds as they write have nothing to fear from this marketing tool. If it helps their publishers increase their readership, it can only be good. If, on the other hand, it leads to only the biggest getting the lion’s share of the publicity, then both readers and writers will be in trouble.