Ebook Analytics Aim to Enlighten Publishers

Article ImageIt used to be that the only data publishers had to work with to determine if a book was a success or a failure were the sales figures. But those numbers only scratch the surface and lead to many more questions than answers. For example, are readers actually finishing a book? And who, exactly, is buying the book?
Well, now, thanks to the power of analytics, ebook publishers have the ability to uncover a treasure trove of information about their readers and their behavior. Not only can a publisher find out how many copies have been sold, but it can also determine who is doing the purchasing, how much progress those readers are making, and how much time they're spending with a particular ebook.

Ebook analytics service Hiptype, Inc., which calls itself a "platform for data-driven book publishing," launched its beta version in late July. There's a catch-the plug-in doesn't work on every platform yet, including Kindle and Nook, the two biggest players in the ebook market. For now, it works just on platforms that support HTML5 and that allow JavaScript to be embedded within a book.

"The technical limitations of Hiptype make it not very valuable, and that's the real problem," says ebook and online media consultant Leonard Feldman, the former senior product manager at Safari Books Online and Follett Digital Resources. Feldman is now the CEO and principal consultant of Klemfarb, a Carpentersville, Ill.-based consulting firm, where he works with book publishers and distributors to help them enter the ebook market.

"Hypothetically, Hiptype could be really, really useful, but because of the way that it was implemented, I doubt that very many publishers are going to use it," he adds.

Despite its limitations, a service such as Hiptype can be a tremendous advantage to publishers, notes Feldman. "What Hiptype allows [publishers] to do is to get all kinds of usage information; the best way to think about it is it's very much like what a web service can get from Google Analytics. You can find out which pages in an ebook are being read, how long the ebook has been read, how many times the ebook has been opened," says Feldman. "There's a surprising number of ebooks people buy and they never even read; it's the equivalent of buying a book and putting it up on the shelf. You can find that out from Hiptype too because they simply run their usage information and find out that 3,000 copies were sold, but there is only usage information on 1,000 of them."

The Hiptype website says its service can also tell a publisher the percentage of readers who completed a book, as well as average progress made through a book. Hiptype's website continues that it "uses data to automatically improve the value and effectiveness of publisher ad campaigns," adding that "Hiptype Smart Ad Campaigns make it easy to target people most likely to purchase and read your book."

Publishers can also use the data gathered from Hiptype to determine what ebooks they will approve for publication in the future, notes Feldman.

Feldman used an example of a new author to illustrate his point. "You're a publisher, and you are trying to figure out whether or not you want to continue with this author. One way of looking at that is the raw sales, which is always useful," he says. "With a print book, that's really the only thing you have available to you. You know how many copies you sold, but you don't know anything else. Hiptype, on the other hand, is providing some information on the demographics of the readers. So you not only know how many were sold, but you know what kind of reader is actually reading the book; you also know how quickly they are reading. What it allows the publisher to do is to get a much better understanding of why a book was popular."

Dana Kaye, owner of Kaye Publicity, a Chicago-based boutique PR company specializing in publishing and entertainment, says she has been following Hiptype very closely, "as it could help immensely with quantifying marketing efforts."

Right now, free/sale ebook promotions are "all the rage," notes Kaye. "They're one of the only marketing efforts where publishers and authors are seeing dramatic results. But it's my prediction that most people who download ebooks for under $3 don't actually get around to reading the book. If they don't read the book, they won't get hooked on the author, and the promotion isn't as effective," says Kaye.

"Knowing how many people read the books will help publishers find the sweet spot for pricing and promotions. Maybe they'll learn that books priced at $4.99 are downloaded less but read more. Or maybe the free books are read more frequently than we think," continues Kaye.

However, with Hiptype's present limitations, that valuable information isn't currently available to publishers whose books are on Kindle and Nook. Feldman notes that Hiptype currently works on Apple's iBooks, but Apple accounts for just 10% of the U.S. ebook market.

"Hiptype says they're talking to other companies, but the fact that they don't have support for Amazon and don't have support for Barnes & Noble ... for most publishers makes it not useful for them," says Feldman.

"From a statistical point of view, if the Apple audience was completely representative of the entire ebook population, then you could make the argument that even though you can only monitor what's going on Apple, that's ok because you're getting a representative sample," Feldman continues. "But the reality is that it almost certainly isn't representative because most of the people on the Apple platform are reading on iPads, which are expensive and sell to very high-income people. You really need to be getting information back from Amazon and from Barnes & Noble and right now Hiptype doesn't," he says.

Feldman notes that Amazon and Barnes & Noble are "already collecting this information themselves, so they could sell that information to publishers or make it available to publishers-I believe Barnes & Noble is already doing that on a very limited basis."

Another possibility is that someone else could come up with an ebooks analytics service that works on more platforms. "If someone figures out how to make this work in those companies' e-readers, then they could take the business away from Hiptype, or Hiptype could figure out how to do it. But I honestly think they should have figured this out before they launched," says Feldman. "What they're doing now is educating their competition as opposed to really having a salable product." 

(Image courtesy of Andrew Mason, Flickr Creative Commons.)

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