By Arundati Dandapani, December 2016, MRIA Innovation Blog Winner, December 2014
Big data is how retail behemoth Amazon disrupted book publishing. Did publishers need to become the contact point for retail and aggregate data in order to keep their margins too? Authors and publishers were discombobulated by the rise of digital, shattering old hierarchies and book distribution channels, reaching different demographics, epitomized by the game changing and controversial novel Fifty Shades of Grey accessible on discrete e-readers. The p-book apocalypse became the top business concern for first world publishers. Short stories and novellas made a digital comeback: fewer pages did not mean lesser business! Portability was a blessing for gadget-fed millennials and other urban commuters.
Disruptive innovation happened in the nineties for some and noughties for others. For many, it is happening right now. Nielsen BookScan, BookNet Canada, the Book Industry Study Group and Bowker Marketing Research among others, compile book sales figures that make it possible to track real time sales data and consumer profiles. Authors are held accountable to marketing research and sales benchmarks that are dubious. Part of the threat is the self-publishing revolution—where one in five books purchased in Britain in 2013, and a quarter of the books that got ISBNs in the US in 2012, were self-published!
Will the future of books be unravelled by data intelligence techniques alone? Or will the success of e-books ride on the cheapest prices to break inroads with the mass market? The monopsony that is Amazon scares publishers who have turned multimedia, attracting mergers and acquisitions as bailouts for consumer starved, segregated marketplaces. Big data will extract customer insights and link publishers to retail outlets. It will identify and solve research problems (eg: closet readerships) and address the book industry’s demands locally, nationally, and internationally.
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