For generations, editors and publishers have relied on gut intuition when making book acquisitions and sales projections. Those guts tell them who reads what. Well, maybe it’s time for a gut check.

The book business is conceding ground increasingly to data, and not just sales data focusing on units sold. More data than ever is available on reader demographics and reading habits.

Data Direction for Publishers


A standout source for book business data is Immersive Media and Books 2020, the first study to capture data expressly about how people engage with books, video games, film, and television.

Co-authors Dr. Rachel Noorda and Dr. Kathi Inman Berens offer data-informed guidance on book buyers and cross-media consumption, and they probe incisively for why book readers may choose to become book pirates. The pair appeared in May on this podcast and return for a second interview with a new take, planted in a data study practice called cross-tabbing.

“Cross-tabbing allows us to see the relationships between the variables so we can take deeper dives into the data. We’ve [already] seen where book piracy intersects with other variables,” says Dr. Noorda.

“In the time since our last discussion on this podcast, Kathi and I have continued to cross-tab data about piracy with other variables, including book pirate behavior and discovery in other media, which we are also really excited to share and talk about,” she tells me.

“We wanted to know not just about books, but also about consumption of games and TV/movies. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has now released an American Time labor survey. There was a 21% rise for the second half of 2020 in reading. That’s great. But so was TV watching, which was up 11%, and playing games and computer use, which was up 37%.

“This all ties into what we touched on in the report and what we really want to drive home, which is that this isn’t an either/or thing. You’re not a pirate or a book buyer. You can be both. And you’re not either a book buyer, consumer, reader, or a consumer of other media. What we saw in our data was that those that were avid in books were avid across other media.”

Dr. Rachel Noorda is director of book publishing and an assistant professor in English, at Portland State University. Her book, Entrepreneurship in US Book Publishing in the 21st Century, was published by Cambridge University Press in September.

Dr. Kathi Inman Berens is associate professor of book publishing and digital humanities at Portland State University. She’s co-editor of the forthcoming Electronic Literature Collection, Volume 4.

Author: Christopher Kenneally

Christopher Kenneally hosts CCC's Velocity of Content podcast series, which debuted in 2006 and is the longest continuously running podcast covering the publishing industry. As CCC's Senior Director, Marketing, he is responsible for organizing and hosting programs that address the business needs of all stakeholders in publishing and research. His reporting has appeared in the New York Times, Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, The Independent (London), WBUR-FM, NPR, and WGBH-TV.
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