Ebooks at Dyman Associates Publishing Inc A Plea: Let Some Ebook Data Flow

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Historically, when all others are concentrating on lowering costs, quality wins.

Publishers with a laser focus on improving the reader experience win over those focused on saving pennies per page. There is an appetite for quality enhanced ebooks at a premium (e.g. audio books, companions).

But it’s not necessarily about simply improving the multimedia experience. The best way to improve revenues, stickiness, and loyalty has always been to ask the customer. Customer data is the best indicator of what does and doesn’t work.

Imagine being able to factor in the subtleties of your readers’ experience. What parts of the book did they like and at what parts did they struggle to keep reading? Which sample of the book led to more sales? Did they finish the book? If so, how long did it take and what were the sticking points? Who is my audience?

The problem with surveying customers is that the sample size of data is typically too small to warrant rewrites. But ebooks afford us the opportunity to capture this data automatically. In fact, the EPUB3 format allows for embedded JavaScript, so we can leverage some of the same type of detailed analytics we get from web pages (that have been optimized and improved for years) – for ebooks.

Yes, there are privacy concerns. Yes, there are data-ownership questions. Yes, there are platform wars. These are strong forces that have brought down laudable efforts to bring this data to authors, such as Hiptype (a short-lived startup that cracked the problem but was strategically blocked by larger forces).

Platforms are not to be blamed, nor are privacy activists. Their assertions and efforts on behalf of the data and readers are valid. But there is a common understanding that our written word could be improved by what is effectively the best possible peer review system available – a mass contingency of actual consumers. And that little “e” in ebooks allows us to dynamically make changes.

So what’s the answer?

There is common ground between data-driven publishing geeks (such as myself), privacy activists, authors, and platform owners. For example, we can all agree that if most students are incorrectly answering the questions at the end of a lesson, changes likely need to be made. Customer data does not have to include personal information, nor does it have any particular value by itself. However, an author/editor would find it invaluable. The ebook could be improved, the lesson would be more valuable, and scores of students would understand trigonometry better than I.

If we can all agree on sharing some of the most basic data elements (perhaps just with the Publisher and Author for the express use of improving quality and conversion), all parties win. Readers will have a better experience, authors will have created a better product, and publishers will increase sales. Best of all, platforms that make such data available would attract more authors and publishers.

The data-driven publishing movement is a strong current that we can control by defining what data is shared, with whom and for what purpose. Building a dam to stop all data is a detriment to readers, students, publishers, authors, and platform owners.

It’s time to open the flood gates and let some data flow. See other book reviews at Dyman Associates Publishing Inc.

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