e-Books: a New Way to Optimize for Print?

The Business Blook as Beta Publishingtape-measure-2One of the benefits of living in a digital world is that it gets easier to measure everything.   For example, if we have an online store, we can measure the traffic that comes to our websites and the behavior of visitors once they are there.  We can count conversions – e.g. sign-ups, downloads and / or sales.  With this information, we can optimize different aspects of the website to deliver a satisfying experience for both the customer and the website owner.  So why not optimize the books we sell to deliver a better reading experience?  The term “book” now glows with an electronic aura.  E-books are showing impressive growth, though still a small percentage of overall book sales, and there are many new sales channels opening up for books in electronic form.  It seems conceivable that soon we may see some form of content testing for books in electronic format. 


Google’s free Website Optimizer tool

Publishers could offer variations of sample content on a website or blog to see which drives more interest before making the commitment to an expensive print version.  Certainly authors who develop their content through the medium of a blog already have a good start on this process if they let the blog metrics guide their choice of content for their title.  Publisher could also offer different beta versions of a book title through electronic channels – e.g. serialized content online, to e-book readers or mobile phones – to  see which results in better customer reviews, sales, etc.  In this way a book could be optimized toward a finished product that customers really want. 

In addition to content, other elements of a book could be tested, including:  book title, cover design, cover text, testimonials, even chapter titles.  The tests might even provide greater predictability for future print book sales.   Tools are already available to make such testing easy, inexpensive and statistically significant.  Publisher intuition about what works would serve as a starting hypothesis; testing would be the objective final arbiter of what actually works. 


Which version would you buy?

Will publishers explore “book optimization?”  Perhaps not right away.  But the ease and cost effectiveness of measurement in the digital realm, and the high cost of failure in the analog (read “print”) world could certainly make it a more attractive option in the future.



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