In a morning of presentations focused on the growing importance of Big Data, mobile computing and self-publishing on industry decision-making, The Book Industry Study Group’s Making Information Pay Conference also released some preliminary results of BookStats, an annual venture with the Association of American Publishers to measure the the U.S. book industry, reporting that the U.S. book market generated about $27.1 billion in sales in 2012, dominated by the trade book sector at $15 billion.
Ned May, v-p at Outsell, an independent data analysis firm brought in to analyze this year’s BookStat report, was one of a number of presenters to note that despite the disruptive impact of technology on the industry, book publishing has done well. “Sales are flat,” he said, noting industry sales of $27.4 billion 2011, “but the industry has done well despite digital disruption. Other industries like music, have been devastated by disruption.” Dave Thompson, v-p of sales analysis at Random House, echoed him a bit a later during the conference, “we have weathered the digital transition better than any industry and this data supports that.”
And without a doubt this conference was focused on data, specifically “Big Data” and the prodigious growth and capture of raw data generated by digital networks and the personal use of all manner of new digital devices. This year’s MIP even featured a data scientist—Hilary Mason, chief scientist at Bitly, the URL shortening firm—who offered a presentation called “Data Gives Us Superpowers.” In a presentation that combined equal amounts of quirky charm and technical insight, Mason outlined the role of distributed computing—the ability to link virtual computers together online and quickly process vast amounts of raw data—and captured data from Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and other social media platforms Bitly measures, which allow technicians to “ask questions and get answers in minutes rather than in a month.”
She then outlined a few things that Bitly gleans from the Internet, including the average daily amount of time people spend on Twitter (2 hours), Facebook (3 hours) and YouTube (7 hours). She noted that Monday mornings are the best time to send out tweets and Tumblr users—invariably used by the young—“party all night long.” And in case you’re wondering, she said with a grin, “there are more pictures of dogs on the Internet than cats.” But more seriously she also noted that “we can tell what's happening on the Internet via keywords,” and speaking directly to the rising importance of social media noted that “the right audience [online] is better than a large audience.”
BISG executive director Len Vlahos gave an overview of “The Digital Consumer” using data from its "Consumer Attitudes Towards E-book Reading Survey," in particular looking at the behavior of “Power Buyers” or consumers who buy at least one e-book a week. They represent about 17% of all e-book buyers, they are likely to be a women aged 55-64, and are “grown not born,” he said, noting that they buy physical books and e-book interchangeably and have grown into being “power” e-book buyers over time. Vlahos also noted that while 80% of Power Buyers shop at Amazon, 40% shop at B&N and 30% buy or use libraries/OverDrive to find the e-books they buy. And while dedicated e-readers continue to dominate, their dominance is slipping (and the use of iPads for reading is growing) and Power Buyers generally own tablets and e-readers (though they prefer dedicated e-readers for reading).
Ashleigh Gardner, head of content at Wattpad, an online writer community that attracts millions of daily users—including teens and young adults-- who post writing, solicit feedback and develop followers, outlined the growth and impact of the platform. “There are more readers than writers on the site,” she said noting that it attracts 15 million monthly visitors, “”we are not a self-publishing site.” But the site focuses on an audience that reads mostly (80% of the time, she said) with smartphones and mobile devices and offers a lively social platform. She called Wattpad, “a YouTube for books,” that attracts lots of young women who are writing and getting snapped up by traditional publishers. The site also attacts self-publishing stars like Amand Hocking, veteran authors like Margaret Atwood, and many others who are doing a combination of promotional and collaborative products, as well as a fast growing international audience. Gardner says that 50,000 stories are uploaded everyday to Wattpad.
Finally this year’s MIP ended with a panel focused on the “migration of P to E, E Only and E to P,” that featured such industry veterans at Rachel Chou at Open Road Media, Andrew Savikas of Safari Books and Dan Weiss, publisher at large at St. Martin’s Press and director of the house’s digital first imprints. Savikas, CEO of Safari Books Online, outlined the subscription model of Safari Books and how it generates revenue (usage per page views), while Julie Coblentz of B&N’s self-publishing unit, Nook Press, and Weiss both outlined how the self-publishing market is impacting their businesses and guiding their business decisions.
Ken Michaels, president of Hachette Book Group and chairman of BISG, closed the conference with a presentation on change and adaptation, noting that “the world is changing more rapidly than we realize.” In particular he noted that the former linear supply chain in publishing—the familiar publisher to distributer to retailer paradigm—has been replaced by a crazy and complex constellation of financial interests and sevices surrounding one central figure—the reader. He also used this new paradigm to promote industry collaboration, like BookStats.
“We see complexity as an opportunity,” Michaels said, “not because we can figure it out in isolation, but because we can participate togther in organizations like AAP, BISG, IDPF and others, without which we couldn’t educate ourselves about the best practices in this new world.”