How publishers are using data in the modern era

Last month, our theme focused on the role of bookshops in the modern world. Now, we’re going a bit more technical. We’re looking at how the data explosion of recent years can be used by the publishing and media industries to drive sales and improve relationships with customers.
The Ribbonfish team deals with data every single day, and we’re proud to help it make the world go round – especially for publishers! Without further ado, here’s our look at the importance of using data for modern organisations. Look out for graphics and video timelines, portraying the growth of data in the world as we know it.

A video timeline: How data came to rule the world

Can data transform book publishing?

The publishing industry has been through many seismic changes over the years, especially with the rise of online publishing and eBooks. In the modern era, data analysis is proving to be a cutting-edge tool in the arsenal of publishers, and all other major industries alike. Measuring data and scrutinising the results can be used to your advantage. Intelligent data analysis will not only benefit your bottom line, but also help outsmart competitors.
Gathering the right data helps to grasp existing and potential customers’ thought patterns and behaviours. You instantly gain access to their likes, dislikes, purchasing history, search trends, and more. This helps to paint a detailed picture, allowing publishers to predict future purchases and forecast sales.

But how exactly can data be used within the publishing industry?


Customer insights

Now more than ever, being focused on your customers is absolutely paramount. People have become accustomed to the ease and convenience of smart technology, which has become an extension of themselves. Amazon makes purchasing recommendations that are spot on, Facebook understands your interests, and Instagram tailors your feed to highlight individual tastes.
The insights gained from digital data analysis gives businesses the freedom of knowing everything about customers, from their age to their chosen operating system. This information is highly valuable, but only if analysed and deciphered optimally.

Making changes

The big players such as Amazon, Apple and Google have the upper hand, due to their sheer enormity. It’s not possible for smaller publishers to obtain as much data and adapt as quickly as the big guys can.
However, minor changes can be made and these tweaks can have a significant impact in the future, even if it’s a simple website redesign, eCommerce format change or a refresh of content placement
Historically, the world of marketing relied more heavily on instinct and calculated impulse. Data is changing that dynamic by producing statistics and factual analysis to back-up ongoing and future campaigns.

Publishing content

Deciding which books and content are published based on data trends is a relatively new concept. Publishers have made huge strides in investigating what readers actually want, and it’s proving to be revolutionary.
This power of knowledge should be about making a strong connection with loyal followers and helping to build trust. Listening to existing and potential customers can help to establish what’s published in the future.

Stay ahead of your competitors

Even though there are successful examples of the power of data, many industry executives are hesitant to embrace it wholeheartedly. In a recent survey, only 5% of executives believed that using data would make a significant and impactful change to their current business model. That’s an incredibly small percentage, but it’s great news for those that are willing to take a leap of faith.
Publishers that use data to form new ideas gain the advantage of being one step ahead. Where others are reluctant to give data a chance, you can use it to build strong relationships with your customer base and release cutting-edge content.

Moving forward

To take advantage of this trend, consider investing in groundbreaking technology, data tools and marketing automation. Perhaps it’s time for a reshuffle and some fresh perspective within the structure of your company, possibly to introduce new ways of brainstorming, customer mapping and communicating between departments.
It’s a good time to begin hiring people who understand the importance of data and its future potential to shape your organisation. Identify candidates who may not come from a publishing background but are experts in this field. This will help with testing and analysing marketing campaigns while staying relevant in a very fast-paced world.
Also read: Publishing HR: How to find the right talent
Ultimately, data can be the driving force behind increasing revenue and helping to develop your perception of the publishing market in an intricate way. Audience perception and trend forecasting have been made a lot easier to decipher with the popularity of data-driven markets. It can also be an incredibly beneficial asset to the publishing industry.

A presentation: How data came to rule the world


Should publishers use big data?

In the modern era, there’s a buzz surrounding the concept of big data. However, its relevance within the publishing industry has been questioned to some degree. Utilising data to optimise and grow businesses in an established creative industry may seem clinical, but it’s necessary in an increasingly competitive environment.
However, times are changing and with the digital era powering forward, adopting data-led business practices is recommended for the major players in any industry.
Facebook and Twitter are two successful examples of big data usage. Social media platforms have spearheaded the big data concept from day one, and publishers will benefit from researching the journey of two of the largest companies on the planet.
Should publishers use big data? Here’s an overview of big data and how it can be used effectively within the industry.

What is Big Data?

Big data is a term used to describe the large volume of data that inundates organisations on a daily basis. But it’s not the amount of data that’s important; it’s what businesses do with it that really counts.
Volume: How much data are you collecting in megabytes, gigabytes, terabytes and so on? For example, during the 2012 Olympics, the BBC generated over two petabytes of data.
Velocity: How long does it take for the data to reach you? It could vary from seconds, minutes, hours, to even weeks.
Variety: What platforms are you currently using to obtain the data and how varied is it? You could be using social media, search engines or email for example.
Variability: Is the data flow continuous or is it recorded in a staggered manner, which could be dependent on the time of day, week or month?
Visualisation: Once you’ve collected the data, what are you doing with it? How are you utilising it throughout the company to paint a picture and build a universal understanding throughout departments?
For more on these different aspects, read James Lichtenberg’s comprehensive article on Publisher’s Weekly.

How can publishers use Big Data?



Once big data is gathered, you can assess the effectiveness and efficiency of your publishing efforts across different platforms. You’ll be able to judge what’s working and what changes need to be made. Big data can be stored in a database for instant access for all departments of the publishing house that may require it.


When you’re in the product development stages, you can use Big Data to make subtle changes to reach your audience and ensure you’re creating something they want to buy. Analysing and interpreting data gives you a far better chance of success with a book, magazine, etc. It gives you the opportunity to glimpse into the future and build on your successes.


Big Data allows marketers to pinpoint their target audience with greater precision. Analysing data enables marketers to spot trends, which they can use to lead investigations and get inside the mind of a potential reader, as well as understand their existing ones. See the later section on small data for more on this investigative approach.
Data gives marketers real-time updates on the success of a campaign, which allows them to have their ear to the ground on a daily basis. If a campaign isn’t having the desired impact, tweaks and changes can be made to ensure the right people begin to take notice.


With so much data being recorded, it’s easier than ever to get an opinion and feedback from your audience. This is especially useful within the publishing industry, as readers invest a lot of time into your products. Collecting first-hand feedback, whether good or bad, will help ongoing projects and could save you time and money. This can take the form of qualitative or quantitative data research. Big Data analysis can lead your hypotheses.

Small Data

Whilst Big Data is making a big impact on the business world, creative industries, and publishing, small data is beginning to cause its own waves. The concept of capturing and analysing Small Data is gaining serious traction, and with good reason. It’s a chance to connect on a more intimate level with consumers and understand their thought patterns and behaviours, while marketing to them on a more localised and personal level.
Small Data is about observations and one-to-one investigations to understand what’s going on behind the scenes, and the reasons why people engage in particular behaviour. The work of Martin Lindstrom is particularly important for those interested in Small Data collection.
The theory of Small Data is that Big Data won’t provide all the answers, only the top-level trends. It’s important to look beyond the numbers. Whilst the leading Small Data practitioners always recommend going into people’s houses and observing their behaviour, some of the principles can be applied in other ways – such as intelligent interview questions, the detailed analysis of help forums, and much more.
Small Data can create actionable, realistic goals within a company, especially a creative field such as publishing. You’re able to create tailor-made products and campaigns, which feel thoughtful and compelling to the end user.
Data should never squash the creativity and acute perception of those within the publishing industry. However, the increased amount of useful information cannot be ignored, and will assist in getting the very most out of your publishing house, its authors, and your audience.

An infographic timeline: How data came to rule the world

How data came to rule the world
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