Could An Overdependence on Data Hurt The Book Industry?
In a 2011 episode of The Simpsons entitled "The Book Job," Homer assembles a team to write the next bestselling young adult novel in an attempt to make an easy million bucks. In lieu of telling an original story or advancing any sort of artistic vision, the team simply co-opts elements of young adult fiction that have already been proven immensely successful. Their finished product, "The Troll Twins of Underbridge Academy," tells the story of a magical school located underneath the Brooklyn Bridge in which the students play a sport called "Fuzzlepitch."
In the years since "The Book Job" first aired, it has become more conceivable than ever that one could predictably produce a blockbuster book by crunching the data on what has sold well in the past. Recent years have brought publishers greater access to data, and with it, more nuanced insight into everything from the topics that certain demographics are interested in to the completion rates of specific books. While most publishers may not aspire to replicate the latest literary fad to the farcical extent that Homer does, some in the industry have expressed concerns that an overreliance on data in service of reducing risk could stymie the creative aspects of title acquisition and diminish the vibrancy of the industry.
Data Is About What's Been Done
In an industry long defined by its reliance on intuitive -- and often unpredictable -- decision-making, data promises to reduce the uncertainty of the publishing business. Yet data also has its limitations, in that by its very nature it is about the past. It tells us little about subject matter that remains unexplored, or genres not yet invented. Could diminishing the role of creative thinking prevent publishers from breaking new ground and from having a diverse set of offerings that satisfy readers?