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A great step forward by Sourcebooks which we expect other publishers will imitate

29 April 2016

From veteran publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin:

Since I started working with Peter McCarthy, he has been impressing me with the importance of publishers doing “research” in the digital age, by which he means“audience research” done with a variety of online tools. That audience research should inform what publishers do to market their books by identifying, segmenting, locating, and understanding the potential buyers for those books. That enables publishers to “aim” their marketing efforts where they are likely to do the most good.

. . . .

What we were already beginning to see then (and more since) is that many publishers, and by now most of the big ones, have created an executive position with the word “audience” in the title or job description. The responsibilities to address audiences required research as a prerequisite, but it has seldom been framed that way.

This week we were delighted to see that Sourcebooks, a legitimate contender for the title of “most innovative company in book publishing”, has created a “data and analysis” department. As reported by Shelf Awareness in its newsletter (and also reported by Publishers Marketplace and Publishers Weekly):

Sourcebooks has created a data and analysis department that brings together “experts from supply chain, editorial, and sales” to streamline data functions and offer a higher level of analytical support to departments, partners and customers.

The only part about this that is disappointing is that the word “research” is not in the department name or description. But the separate department to specialize in “data and analysis” is exactly what we were advocating when we called for creation of research departments.

It is important to keep the connection between “data and analysis” and “research” in mind because, historically, “data and analysis” in publishing have meant “post mortem analysis” of specific marketing efforts. Indeed, many publishers have “analytics” roles already, but they are not cross-functional and they tend to be focused on analysis of time-honored activities, not applying new techniques on audiences as is enabled in the digital age.

As an industry, we have usually used “data and analysis” to measure the effectiveness of prior activities rather than to understand what we’re aiming at in the future. Being explicit about the fact that “research” is the core function means you are also being explicit that the primary purpose of that function is to aim future efforts, not evaluate the successes or failures of prior ones. Research is seeking to be predictive as well as to inform rapid response to an ever-changing landscape. With most of their existing capabilities and activities, in Pete’s words, “publishers don’t look out; they don’t look forward; and they don’t look ‘big’”.

. . . .

We applaud the Sourcebooks approach to staffing their data and analysis group, which acknowledged that “editorial, sales, and supply chain” needed to participate.

Link to the rest at The Shatzkin Files

PG was going to “comment” about “research” but decided not to.


Big Publishing, Mike Shatzkin

19 Comments to “A great step forward by Sourcebooks which we expect other publishers will imitate”

  1. I expect PETA will be calling shortly to demand they free all the rats in that research lab.

  2. “A great step forward by Sourcebooks which we expect other publishers will imitate”

    Hmmm, I’m guessing Mike’s once again ignoring that Sourcebooks is actually trying to imitate what Amazon has been doing all along.

    Even if they manage to get their ‘research’ ‘right’, there’s still the matter of whether the boardroom will make good (or any) use of it …

    • and to add to Allen’s insights… what internet marketers have been doing successfully for about, well since late 1980s or so–beginning with now ancient ‘bulliten boards.’ Some of yer young’uns were prob not yet born then. lol.

      …and progressing nowadays to all kinds of fancy dancy web based hooha, including webinars, telecons still, skyperoonie, one page web sites, and the whole magilla. Let’s just say 25 years ahead of this article…. amz began in that time period too, but the internet marketers, legions of them, were first ribbon cutters

  3. Well, I guess a few people in a data and analysis is all right. Should be sufficient to read all the Author Earnings reports, and report the results back.

  4. Um…my selection for most innovative company in book publishing would be Amazon.

  5. there are so many scare quotes in that excerpt, I’m pretty sure I have no idea what Mike is talking about. When you use “words” in “sentences” with “scare-quotes” around them, “soon” it seems like you’re “talking” about “something else” entirely. Perhaps “data and analysis” is a “euphemism” for something else, like “self-love”.

    • What the heck is up with those?!

      Aside from being annoying, is he implying that he’s just repeating what they said, and doesn’t know for sure if they are actually doing “research” or that he thinks their “data analysis” might be one guy looking through People magazine?

    • Please, can you tell me what ‘scare quotes’ are? I’m only familiar with using quotes and semi quote marks to indicate an actual quote, or sometimes to indicate ‘not sure this is valid word or idea’ and sometimes just to highlight a concept.

      So, Joe Blow said, “Yes I’ll vote for the bird nest man.” But ‘the bird nest man’ may not be electable. or, The “bird nest” man might by then have fledglings on his head, er, hands.

      Something like that. Are those ‘scare quotes’?

      • Wikipedia says it best:


        There is also this from grammar.about com:

        “Scare quotes (also called shudder quotes) are quotation marks used around a word or phrase not to indicate a direct quotation but to suggest that the expression is somehow inappropriate or misleading–the equivalent of writing “supposed” or “so-called” in front of the word or phrase.

        Scare quotes are often used to express skepticism, disapproval, or derision. Writers are generally advised to use them sparingly.”

        Seeing scare quotes all over an article is not a good sign.

        • I had no idea. I feel instantly like a relic. lol.

          I had no idea this was in such usage it is even in wikipedia.

          I’ll likely keep usin’ em the way I always have, but I sure dont mean to be
          a’skeerin’ any one. Now, a bowie knife farther out than the boot tips of a soused hombre with a loose grip– is a whole t’other proposition of real scary. lol

  6. When an industry player has to start justifying its existence, it more often than not is the beginning of the end…

  7. Every time an article begins with: “from veteran publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin” I get this kind of hard pain in my sinuses. Will there come a day when we can call him something else? I have several appropriate suggestions…

    • I actually cringe when I see his name, because I know I will feel embarrassed for him.

    • Every time an article begins with “From veteran publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin,” my mouth forms a slow, wolfish smile. May that phrase never vary, for to me it is part and parcel of a revered TPV tradition.

  8. Sourcebooks, huh? I’m just going to share my personal experience with an editor there. My agent had several editors speaking with me who were interested in my book. The Sourcebooks editor got on the call not having read my book (which horrified my agent when she heard). She had the call because she “didn’t want to miss out” if other editors were interested. Her FIRST question for me? How many followers do I have on social media? Not surprised they need help. It was a very unprofessional experience.

  9. I don’t even know what Sourcebooks is, nor why I should care, but articles by the trad pub guru are usually worth a laugh or few.

    If these companies think it’s going to be easy to duplicate Amazon’s methods at this late date, there’s a major surprise in their future.

    Maybe I should put scare quotes around random phrases in my replies? It might make me look really, really important. And, like, knowledgeable. Or something.

  10. Sourcebooks publishes my current idol-writer-fave: Susanna Kearsley. They’re based in Naperville, IL, local to me, but that doesn’t mean I’ll be subbing to them anytime soon.

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