The Work

The Joy of Book Databases

One of the things I love most is digging into a huge book database and finding things out. How many books in how many categories published by which companies have page counts of less than x? This tells you things (like who’s publishing sub-book content – or chunks, as I like to call them – and for which markets).

Or which US publishers publish books in Spanish, and how many.

A data point is not an end in itself – you have to stack it up against other data points, anecdotal evidence, do some reality-testing. But having a large book database – as I did at B&N, as I did at Muze/Rovi – is a critical tool in making sense of publishing. You can see what the industry is doing on a large scale. It’s pretty extraordinary.

Having had back-end exposure to so many large databases, it’s interesting to compare their structure. Obviously I can’t say much, but it’s always pleasurable to have your suspicions validated about how data gets structured from one company to the next.

When you’re a product manager for bookish products, having access to such data puts you pretty much in heaven. Want to find out how to express the value prop of a particular tool? Run a query on the potential market for that tool. Want to find out the adoption rate of a particular standard? You can measure it.

(I can say that there are over 32 million books in print in the US. I can also say that in 1998, there were 900,000. Beyond that, you’ll have to subscribe to Bowker’s PubTrack reports.)

And data is critical for product development. Who’s consuming your products? How are they using them? I’m lucky – Books in Print tracks my products’ consumption very closely – DOIs, ISTCs, and very soon ISNIs. I have a pretty accurate view of who’s using these things, and for which products. Not all product managers have access to this kind of information.

So I’m grateful. And happy.

2 thoughts on “The Joy of Book Databases

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