Data Driven : IPG Blog Post

The following blog post was recently uploaded onto the IPG website: The original post can be viewed here here

Alex Murphy of Stison explains why it is so important for publishers to get a firm grip on their data
It is perfectly understandable that some publishers find it hard to get passionate about data. Even those of us who specialize in it understand that it is not the most glamorous aspect of publishing.

But it is precisely because there is so much else to enjoy in this wonderful business that publishers should pay it proper attention. Getting the right systems and technology in place to handle your bibliographic and other data means you can do away with many of those mundane and repetitive jobs around numbers and records—and get on with the creative things you do so well.

But how can you take control of data? Here are ten thoughts.

1 Put someone in charge 
To get proper ownership of all your data, make it the responsibility of one person in your company. Even if there are only two people working there, make sure one is responsible for producing accurate, timely data. It is the best way to ensure you stay on top of it—and equally true for larger organisations. The role may be more about ensuring others populate the data rather than actually editing the information, but either way it is crucial.

2 Systemise

All publishers start out with different ways to handle their data, but it is always best to consolidate it. Some like to keep different spreadsheets for different data needs, but that invariably means endless copying and pasting. Databases give you a single place to input, store, share and retrieve your key data, from which all your sales and marketing activities can then flow. They provide a valuable sense of order and organization too. Getting a good structure in place gives your mind the freedom it needs to be imaginative.

3 Data is not just for the big boys
Many IPG members are small—but you are never too small to start putting structure into your data. Ideally do so from the outset, but whatever your size, if you are serious about growing your business then it is best to make the move to systems as soon as you can. It is far better to make the switch to a new database when you have five titles than it is when you have 500, and you don’t need to spend large amounts on a system.

4 Don’t be scared
Getting to grips with data can seem daunting, and the thought of installing new systems may well be terrifying. That is perfectly understandable, especially for small publishers for whom this will be a big transition. There is no getting around it: there will inevitably be hard work and some upheaval. But don’t let the fear of the task put you off, because you will be enjoying the benefits for a long time.

5 Think of it as an investment
Getting on top of data may also require an outlay, and some publishers just starting out will feel they don’t need the extra expense. But think of it as an investment in your long-term future—and one that should actually save you a lot of money in time and resources over the years. Solutions need not be expensive; Stison’s basic title management package is free, for instance.

6 Be scrupulously accurate
It probably goes without saying that all the data you input about your books should be spotlessly accurate. But I have heard enough horror stories from publishers about mistakes to know that it is impossible to be too rigorous. Wrong pricing data can lead to missed orders, for example—and a wrong ISBN means your book might not be discovered at all. Check, double check and triple check.

7 Think about your needs
If you decide to buy in support on data management, think carefully about your requirements. How much control of your system do you want, and how much are you prepared to outsource? How much support will you need? Do you want it to focus on one aspect, like bibliographic data, or add in others like production, rights and royalties?

8 Get to know your potential partners
Learn about the different companies providing publishing solutions. Your fellow publishers within the IPG use them. Which ones do they employ? What parts of their products work well, and what has gone wrong? Get a feel for what the different providers are like to work with. Good working relationships are crucial, and you need to know you can pick up the phone to someone for help when you need it.

9 Futureproof
All solutions on the market should work well in the here and now—but you need to be confident that they will perform in the future, too. Check that they are compliant with standards like Onix, and that they will be accommodate upgrades in the future. A bit of groundwork now should ensure you won’t have to go through the switching process again.

10 Don’t forget the human touch
If a database is not working for a publisher as it should, it is often because people think it is going to do everything for them. But if that is your belief, then things will probably go wrong. Technology is a great enabler, but it is not the answer to everyone’s prayers—it is human involvement that makes the difference. Always bear in mind that whoever you work with, it is still your data, reflecting all your hard work—so make sure you have proper pride and ownership of it.

Alex Murphy is managing director of Stison, a publishing solutions company that works with many IPG members. 
Visit the Stison website and follow it on Twitter.