Like A Wolf, They’re Tracking You, Virginia
On the way to the digital disruption of the industry! the industry! we online news people (remember news people?) realized that advertisers were asking for — and getting — more and more data based on how our readers were using our work.
In the Ante-Digital Era: At a newspaper, the staff (in hoop skirts) would place your ad and assure you that our circulation rate on a Thursday was 600,000 or more. But could we tell you how many of those 600,000 fine recipients of our newspaper actually saw your ad? Of course not. We didn’t even know how many people had opened the paper at all that day. Dogs were seen running away with at least four copies and were not expected to be highly reactive to advertising therein.
In the Post-Digital Era: At a news site, the staff (in body art) would watch the clicks. At least one luminously GUI-ed software provided heat-mapping on selected pages so that a newsroom could see where on that page the most cursor clicks were occurring. A headline with the word “sex” in it always glowed much pinker than breaking news about the Security Council.[pullquote]There is one trend that is striking more fears in publishers’ minds than any other. And that is the fear of data. — Andrew Rhomberg[/pullquote]
This was reader data, pouring in. And a heartbeat later it became reader analytics as someone parsed it.
To be sure, coded ads had been in play for quite awhile, both in print and on radio and TV — call a given phone number or provide a certain code from the ad and the advertiser could tell that you were watching or reading this or that. But those old-media “call-response” ads were nothing compared to what could be done in the online environment, where user movements could be monitored in real time. Advertisers might find out that no one had clicked on their expensive brand message. We were all over it like a cheap suit.
And does that reality today ever, in some news setting somewhere at some time, affect choices about what news is reported, where and how it’s reported, when it’s reported, maybe with “sex” in its headline?
You didn’t come here to talk about the news industry. How silly of me. Step this way, please.
Publishers And The Fear Of Data
There is one trend that is striking more fears in publishers’ minds than any other. And that is the fear of data.
For me, the fear of Andrew Rhomberg’s London-based company name — Jellybooks — is a lot worse than the data scare. The very thought of jellied books, it’s like something out of Roger Corman, isn’t it? But poor Andrew has listened to me carp about his start-up’s name so long that I think he counts it as useful PR. As long as I spell Jellybooks correctly, right?
And he’s onto something in his latest aria at Digital Book World, The Fear of Data. Kind of grabs you like The Edge of Night.
He’s asking this: won’t data-slinging publishers pass up good books because the analytics will prove that Our Fine Readership really wants schlock?
The fear is that, in the future, worthy books of high literary quality will be shunned. Yet titles are getting acquired by editors even when sales data point toward the reality that they are never going to deliver a positive return. What those who have reservations about data fail to see…is that data will make it easier to find the audience that appreciates these books. Rather than support an expensive marketing campaign across mass retail, publishers can tailor their campaigns to the relevant audience by virtue of an improved understanding of who likes to read a certain kind of book. And just as important, publishers will also discover the optimal approach to reach that audience.