Specializing in publishing books on entrepreneurship and located in the hotbed of technological innovation, Palo Alto, Calif., perhaps it was inevitable that the Planning Shop would create a software program that has the potential to contribute a steady stream of new revenue. Called TitleZ (www.titlez.com), the program allows the Planning Shop to analyze sales trends of books based on data compiled from Amazon's sales rankings.
According to Planning Shop president Rhonda Abrams, TitleZ was born out of her frustration with doing market research on the book industry. While Planning Shop found Amazon's sales rankings helpful, the one- to two-day snapshot the listings provide didn't offer enough information for her to make informed decisions, Abrams said. So, beginning in November 2004 and using Amazon tools (and with Amazon's permission), Planning Shop v-p of product development Arthur Wait began downloading the daily list of the 100,000 top-selling Amazon titles into the publisher's own database. The Planning Shop database now contains more than 500,000 titles for which it has a sales history.
The database lets Planning Shop analyze sales for an individual book or author, or for entire segments. "Any way you can search on Amazon, you can search on TitleZ," said Abrams. Planning Shop has broken the sales history of titles into seven-day, 30-day, 90-day and lifetime averages. The sales trends are accompanied by data found on Amazon, such as price and format.
Although it was developed as an internal tool, word about TitleZ gradually leaked out, and Planning Shop was happy to share its creation with other industry members for free. But that will change later this year—probably in the third quarter—when Planning Shop plans to begin charging for the service. Abrams envisions a modest monthly subscription fee, although final pricing is still being worked out. The company is getting feedback on pricing from users, and while Abrams said she has been encouraged by the price publishers and others say they are willing to pay for the service, she intends to keep the cost reasonable to allow small and self-publishers to afford TitleZ.
One independent publisher that has used the service extensively is Doug Brown of Atlantic Publishers, who uses TitleZ to track the sale of his company's own books on Amazon as well as to do market research on publishing opportunities. Through TitleZ, "we found a couple of new areas to enter," he said. Brown is willing to pay to use the service, although he would like to see some bugs worked out.
Abrams said Planning Shop is working on fixing glitches, some of which it can't control because the program uses Amazon's search technology. A search on the term "travel," for example, identifies The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2007 as the top-selling travel guide on Amazon for March 22, but also puts Audrey Niffenegger's The Traveler's Wife second. "We expect to add more services and make more tweaks before we start charging," Abrams said. And at least for the short term, Abrams expects TitleZ to remain a sideline business to Planning Shop's publishing program.