Big data, predictive analytics and AI are changing the established norms in nearly every facet of our lives. The new norms are “informed”—take a moment to think back to what it felt like to navigate with a paper map… Compare that to the experience of using Google Maps: it’s a night and day difference that’s driven by data and sophisticated analytics.
For too long book publishing seemed to be missing its night and day reference point. The traditional sales channel for print books kept publishers data poor. The information they received from the channel was days, if not weeks or months old and lacked the qualities that make big data useful: volume, velocity and variety. They didn’t get enough raw data, they didn’t get it fast enough and they didn’t get a wide enough range of data, making it difficult or impossible to establish the connections that lead to meaningful insights into consumer buying behavior.
Today publishers are awash in data from their distribution and sales channels—from their distributors and wholesalers, from the Amazon Retail Analytics (ARA) system, from other retailers, and from Facebook, Twitter and the other social media platforms. But making sense of the data is still hard. Most publishers lack the resources and tools required to create dashboards that integrate the disparate information they receive.
Happily, the marketing of books is taking a big step forward. OptiQly, a new startup funded in part by Ingram, is focused on helping publishers “see more and sell more” on the Amazon platform. The service isn’t trying to help publishers compete with Amazon, they are trying to help publishers market their books more effectively on Amazon’s platform. OptiQly informs the practice of book marketing in the way that Google Maps informs navigation—it has the potential to make a night and day difference.
OptiQly aggregates over 50 data points from Amazon’s web pages, Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter and Wikipedia for every book in the Amazon marketplace. The aggregated data is used by their proprietary algorithms to calculate two scores for each title: Product Authority and Brand Authority. The Product Authority score reflects how well the book is optimized for discovery and sale. The Brand Authority score reflects the extent to which the author-focused marketing on the Amazon site and on the Web contributes to discovery and sale. The Product and Brand Authority scores are then combined to produce an “OQ” (OptiQly) score that shows how well the whole marketing effort for a given title is optimized for discovery and sale on Amazon’s platform.
While the raw information that OptiQly is tracking is available to publishers in discrete bits and chunks, the way OptiQly has aggregated and analyzed the information is impressive—and significant. The title analysis is presented in an elegantly visualized dashboard that makes it easy to understand and actionable.
Here’s the Overview screen for Tom Perotta’s short story collection Nine Inches:
This title has an OQ score of 66. The Brand Authority score is 80; the Product Authority score is 59. The Overview page also shows the performance of the title over time (updated every few hours), graphs representing the book’s “On Page,” “At Retail” and “Web & Social” performance, as well as “Competitive and Comparable Products”. Most importantly, the page includes an “Insights & Actions” summary. Each insight/action in the summary is linked to OptiQly’s detailed Help Center. While the company has developed a helpful collection of algorithms, they aren’t focused on promoting their proprietary platform—instead they’re promoting the marketing experience of their core team members, especially Peter McCarthy (Chief Product Officer). Pete is well known in the book industry, having worked at Random House and with Mike Shatzkin at Logical Marketing. His experience marketing books is reflected in the make-up of their dashboards and the richness of the help system. Both designs are informative and action-oriented. The team’s collective expertise helped shape their algorithms, and most importantly will come into play as they tune their algorithms going forward, but there’s more than math at work here.
The On Page score is focused on assessing the structure and content of the Amazon Product Detail page, including marketing assets (cover image, Look Inside sample, product description, professional reviews and author bio). The system looks at the title and description to determine if they’re optimized for discovery. It also suggests related keywords that would improve the title’s visibility.
The On Page score of 80 for this title is good, but the system uncovered content and structural problems with the page headline and title description.
Here’s the At Retail summary for the Perotta title:
This page tracks the title’s performance on Amazon. It includes the daily Amazon sales rank, category rankings, author ranking, search ranking, price history, customer review ratings, suggested categories, and more…
The Web & Social page below shows title and author related activity on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter and Wikipedia. All three detail pages include additional insights and suggested actions.
Subscribers to the service can tag individual titles so that it’s easy to track the titles of an individual author or a publisher’s entire catalog. Subscribers can also track books from other publishers, enabling marketers to analyze similar books on a given topic or category.
OptiQly’s pricing is based on the number of tracked ISBNs. The $149 a month entry level package enables a publisher to track 50 titles. Prices and title counts go up from there. The Platinum package runs $1,499 a month and supports up to 2,000 titles. They also offer custom packages for large publishers. The service can be accessed through any browser on any platform. There’s also a free Chrome extension that streamlines access and overlays a snapshot of the book’s OptiQly scores on Amazon product detail page.
Ingram Content Services and OptiQly have announced a deal that will give Ingram’s CoreSource customers the option of subscribing to the OptiQly service within the CoreSource platform.
It’s important to remember that Amazon owns their data—they can make life difficult for OptiQly by blocking access and/or redesigning their pages in a way that undermines OptiQly’s ability to collect the data they’re analyzing. But why would they? OptiQly’s initial focus on Amazon is an act of realpolitik: for most consumers and publishers, Amazon is the online marketplace for books. QptiQly isn’t trying to help publishers game Amazon’s system—they’re helping publishers make the most of the opportunity Amazon’s huge customer base affords.
The OptiQly overview and detail pages reveal the dynamic interrelationship that exists between marketing on the product page, price, and promotion via social media and email. Publishers who want to fully realize the potential of OptiQly are going to have to learn to match the pace of Amazon’s fast changing marketplace. Successfully navigating the flow of big data—its velocity, volume and variety—requires the development of new dynamic systems and habits.
QptiQly will certainly help publishers improve the marketing of new titles and bestsellers, but it’s most significant impact may be the revitalization of the long tail. Over ten years ago in the book The Long Tail Chris Anderson predicted that the Web would dramatically increase the sale of long tail books. That didn’t come to pass. It turns out that books don’t market themselves! Who knew?!? Amazon made the sale of long tail books viable, but OptiQly can help publishers make their long tail content visible.
It will be interesting to see how the day-to-day lives of book marketers change as they augment their marketing decisions and investments with the information and insights provided by OptiQly.