Internet publishers see real-time feedback about visitors to their websites. Television has weekly ratings, and mobile app developers get crash reports.
"In publishing the closest thing is that you send someone your 200-page manuscript and they say they like it—a couple of people mark it up," says Sohail Prasad, the cofounder of a startup called Hiptype.
Hiptype brings data analytics to books with a plugin for e-publishers. With the exception of a small privacy notice (which includes an option to turn the plug-in off), readers won't know it’s there. But it helps publishers determine what their audience looks like—both their demographic profile and their reading habits.
It also helps pinpoint where users start to loose interest.
"If you can’t measure something," says Hiptype’s other cofounder James Levy, "you can’t improve it."
Companies such as Kobo provide analytics to publishers, but Amazon and Barnes and Noble, which dominate the e-book market, don't. The barrier to entry in establishing a new e-reader app is quite high. Hiptype, on the other hand, works with most non-E Ink readers such as the iPad or the Kindle Fire.
If you blame (or thank) big data for bad reality TV and link-bait reporting, you may cringe at the thought of applying it to the good ol’ static tome. But the vision behind Hiptype is less about getting authors to craft the ending to their books based on page turns than it is about marketing books better.
In a beta test of less than 100 books from a large publisher, a self-publishing platform and a handful of authors, the startup has found, for instance, that only about 2% to 4% of sample downloads transfer to book sales.
That’s valuable information, especially when Hiptype can also understand reader habits and pinpoint which samplers are more likely to convert to buyers. For many publishers, it will be worth the $19 or $99 monthly fee per book, depending on number of readers, that Hiptype charges.
Hiptype’s tool also acts on the information it collects. After it pinpoints what type of people are buying a book, it offers an option to buy Facebook ads that specifically target those demographics. Then, it uses click-through data from those ads to narrow down even more specifically what type of person is most likely to buy the book.
Prasad and Levy both have backgrounds building software, and in many ways their product opens up the door for publishers to build books with similar methodology.
Hiptype analytics could, for example, power book A/B testing—a favorite decision-making tool of technology companies such as Google and Netflix. If a publisher releases two samples, it can learn which one results in a better conversion rate (though right now, major ebook platforms don’t make this easy).
Book analytics could also enable a beta phase for books. Wouldn’t it be nice to know that everyone stops reading your book at chapter seven before it's printed?
"Some of my favorite [news] publications wouldn’t be around right now if they didn’t have analytics," Levy says. "We believe data will save book publishing."
[Image: Flickr user gruntzooki]