Data augments great intuitive decisions; it doesn’t replace them.  

If we’re all honest with ourselves, we know that publishing has been a very traditional industry when it comes to making critical decisions such as which manuscript to acquire or how to effectively edit a book. While other industries such as retail and tech have relied heavily on data to drive their product development and marketing decisions, publishing seems to be a bit of a laggard in adopting these approaches.

From using data analysis to mine more value from rights to developing effective keywords and metadata, publishers are slowly embracing the power of data, both big and little versions. From the Big Data perspective, publishers such as Callisto Media are basing their catalog development decisions from trends they mine from online search data. On the Small Data side, a growing number of publishers and their editors are embracing timely data analysis to make better acquisition, manuscript editing, titling, cover design, and marketing decisions.

There are still pockets of resistance in publishing to embracing data as a decision-making tool, however. Some acquisition editors feel that data can obscure the power of their own intuition shaped by years of experience selecting proposals and substantively editing books. An overreliance on data can actually lead to worse decisions, and entire books such as Rishad Tobaccowala’s Restoring the Soul of Business: Staying Human in the Age of Data are sounding the alarm bell that an over-reliance on data can suck the humanity out of business.

That’s why at Target Audience Insights we talk about data-infused decision-making, not data-driven decision making. The benefits of this approach can be eye-opening:

  • Strengthen intuitive decisions. Especially for editors, it’s important to highlight that the infusion of reader insight data can strengthen their intuitive decision-making by adding evidence to back up their recommendations with authors. Also, by watching the trends that data analysis can provide, an editor can improve by noting where her intuition led her astray and how to avoid those mistakes in the future.
  • Avoid really bad decisions. It has often been claimed that relying on target customer feedback can help publishers and other product developers avoid bad mistakes. After all, the passionate opinion of an expert can bias a team towards “just going with it” and ending up with a major mistake on their hands. Reader feedback tends to sniff out those mistakes-in-the-making.
  • Identify potentially breakthrough directions. On the other hand, the “wisdom of the crowd” can uncover amazing directions that an author and editor didn’t even think of.
  • Smooth out hits and misses. Overall, infusing data into publishing decisions can increase the percentage of books that achieve their budgets (and therefore, earn back those royalty advances). Even a 5% or 10% increase in the number of titles in a publisher’s catalog that generate return on investment (ROI) can make a big difference in overall growth and profitability.