Could An Overdependence on Data Hurt The Book Industry?
Caleb Mason, founder and publisher of Publerati, holds this concern and says he has already seen the "stick with what works" mentality in action. Reflecting on his recent trips to BookExpo America, Mason says, "I was amazed...by how few publishers there were, and they all had the same things."
Many will argue that digital disruption and an unstable market have compelled publishers to become less risk tolerant and experimental. But will data shake publishers from the stagnation of uniformity, or lead them further toward the rinse-and-repeat model?
Some data evangelists would argue that big data about reader preferences is superior at revealing reader desires than intuition -- or that focus groups can better extract what readers want. Yet Mason believes this sentiment is misguided. "If a reader can actually describe what they want, then it's probably not that great of an idea," says Mason. "When you look at the history of invention, whether it's Polaroid or the iPod, no one was asking for these devices, but they ended up being revolutionary products."
As more aspects of book consumption become quantifiable, so too, do authors. Publishers are eager to sign authors who already have a significant social media following, as evidenced by the recent slew of books written by YouTube stars and internet icons. But is the lure of big audience numbers blinding publishers to new talent? Mason believes so and it is one of the reasons he created Publerati. "I wanted to do something in the interest of those who are being left behind because they don't have a billion fans, because maybe they can write a very good novel that at least deserves to be published as an ebook," he says.
Mason believes that the tendency to retread worn ideas could open new territory for publishers willing to be bold. The intuitive ideas that set a new trend in motion -- rather than those that latch onto what's fashionable - will be rewarded more handsomely than ever. "At some point, a trend is going to be over," says Mason. "At that point, the benefits of doing something before anybody does it and then having it be successful are huge because you're already ahead of everyone else." The publisher that manages to identify the literary cravings of teenagers unsatisfied by the recent onslaught of broody, dystopian novels have more to gain than artistic credibility -- there's uncrowded market space available.