Big data starts here

After posting a summary of Johanna Vondeling's "top ten trends shaping the future of publishing", I am returning to each of the trends in separate posts appearing on Mondays for the balance of the summer.

Vondeling is Berrett-Koehler's vice president for international sales and business development. The fourth trend on her list, "Big data rules", addressed the implications of data abundance for traditional publishers:

The amount of data in our world has been exploding. Analyzing large data sets—so-called big data—has become a key basis of competition, driving growth and innovation. The rise of multimedia and social media and the increasing volume and detail of information that enterprises capture have been fueling exponential growth in data.

As a result, businesses can now have broad and deep visibility into their stakeholders’ behaviors and values. But which information matters most? Big data offers promise in making sense of complexity.

The few businesses that have successfully migrated from print-first to digital-first models have invested significantly in building in-house data and analytics teams. While data analysis is becoming more important, the need for creative thinking in the changing world of marketing has never been greater. Note the rise in recruitment of “data scientists” who are savvy in computer science but—crucially—also able to apply creative thinking to data-driven challenges.

A bit more than a year ago, BISG dedicated its 2012 "Making Information Pay" conference to the theme of "publishing in the big data era". Presentations from Information Builders, Readerlink and Bookseer explored the purpose and value of big data in our industry.

Then (as now) I was struck by Peter Collingridge's talk, "The surprising power of little data", whose content paralleled a chapter he had contributed to Book: A Futurist's Manifesto. Collingridge talked about tracking the impact of various marketing efforts against book sales to better understand just what moved the needle.

Although "big data" discussions tend to default to the inherent advantage of retailing platforms, Collingridge illustrated what publishers can do now. His observations were echoed by Sachin Kamdar, CEO of, a social analytics firm, who told Josh Stern at Digiday:

The biggest issue [publishers face in understand social data] is being able to aggregate other metrics with social data. What publishers do right now is think about social as its own silo. How many shares on Twitter, how many shares on Facebook? How does it intersect with the audience? They need to use pieces of data to come up with a social strategy moving forward. There’s a data problem now, as they aggregate across other data areas of their property. There needs to be one data stream. It’s about being able to surface those intersections for the publishers. Is my social audience different than the standard reader that visits? If so, how do I get them to stay and then share and comment and engage with them?

Publishers of all types increasingly understand that books are more than objects; they are a part of many conversations. Social media is one way that we can begin to collect everything that's being said about a book. That effort is not limited to a single platform; it's effective at the level of a book. Big data starts here.

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.

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