In this month’s issue of Wired, Kevin Kelly interviewed author James Gleick about his new book “The Information.” At one point in the interview, Gleick talked about the perception of data on a universal scale:
Modern physics has begun to think of the bit — this binary choice — as the ultimate fundamental particle. John Wheeler summarized the idea as “it-from-bit.” By that he meant that the basis of the physical universe — the “it” of an atom or subatomic particle — is not matter, nor energy, but a bit of information.
While data as the basis for the universe will likely remain the subject of scientific debate, data is rapidly proving to be the basis of successful business models. A recent GigaOM story touched on the increasing volume of data being generated in relation to the publishing landscape:
For Barnes & Noble, the data they are dealing with is exploding. It’s a big, rapid change: They have 35 terabytes of data currently, but expect 20 terabytes in 2011 … The challenge now for book sellers is to merge the dot-com website, mobile devices, and brick-and-mortar stores for a seamless experience.
Where do publishers go to gather this data, and what do they do with it once it’s in-hand? I turned to Kirk Biglione, partner at Oxford Media Works for answers. In an email interview, he offered up practical ways to gather and use the sheer amount of data being generated. He also noted that traditional sales channel data, while important, is just the tip of the iceberg.
For publishers, what are the most important types of data generated?
Kirk Biglione: All forms of data are important: traditional sales data, web data, data from interactive apps, and market research data. As publishing goes digital, publishers are being inundated with new types of data. The challenge is making sense of it all and understanding how different metrics relate not only to the bottom line, but to intangibles like consumer experience.
What are the best sources to use for gathering this data?
Kirk Biglione: Traditional sales channel data is still very important, but there are quite a few new sources of data that publishers will want to consider:
Web analytic reports. These provide huge amounts of data on how a publisher’s website is performing. For publishers who sell direct via their websites, web analytics provide valuable insight into critical metrics like conversion and shopping cart abandonment. Also, publishers who sell direct are in a position to collect a wealth of customer data that likely isn’t available through traditional sales channels.
Search analytics — a variation on web analytics. Publishers will want to consider both on-site and off-site search analytics:
- Off-site: How are users finding your website? What keywords and phrases bring them to your site? Are you reaching the desired audience by ranking for the best phrases? Questions like these will likely lead smart publishers to perform a competitive search engine optimization analysis (which produces even more data).
- On-site: What are users searching for once they get to your website? Very few websites actually record on-site search phrases for later analysis. It’s a shame because search logs reveal quite a bit about customers and their intentions.
In-App analytics. How frequently are customers using your app? How long are their sessions? What time of day? Which features are they using the most? Which features are they not using at all? This is the kind of consumer usage data that is impossible to collect from print (or traditional ebooks, for that matter).
Social networks. These can provide valuable data on consumer engagement.
What are practical ways publishers can make use of this data to monetize, adapt, and market products?
Kirk Biglione: Some examples using the data sources above:
- Search analytics can be used to optimize a publishers website for better ranking in organic search results. That will lead to lower search marketing costs, increased discovery, and presumably more sales.
- Web and on-site search analytics can be used to improve a website’s information architecture, help consumers find what they’re looking for, and eliminate barriers to completing online purchases.
- In-app analytics can be used to develop better digital products by providing publishers with insight into which app features consumers value the most.