Is "big data" a cure for the malaise in the publishing industry?

Former publisher now Northwestern professor Candy Lee thinks so. Here she makes the argument for applying the same type of consumer targeting used in other areas of retail (and by the Democrats in the presidential election). It makes sense and she makes some good points.


The problem, however, is not the idea of using big data, it's how to collect the data, how to make it available at what cost, and and who gets to use it. Also, a not insignificant problem is how to convince book readers that getting targeted opt-in e-mails are as desirable as browsing in a store.


Lee calls books "inexpensive." That may be true compared to clothing, appliances and cars, but such a statement ignores that fact that a reader invests more than just dollars in a book. Time and emotional involvement are part of the investment, not just cash. If a reader is going to spend a week of time reading a book, he or she wants some upfront assurances it will be worth the time. 


Ms. Lee is on the right path by identifying the "what." Now hopefully she and others can provide some answers on the "how." Publishers and professors alike might also be better served by listening to readers, rather than trying to direct their buying habits or decide for them what is good or bad.