Five tips to help Publishers sell more

16 April 2013

Jan van Ansem

Jan van Ansem

Principal consultant SAP Data Warehousing

For a long time, publishers have measured their success mainly by counting the number of copies of books sold and the level of profit from sales.

There are two industry trends which publishers need to be aware of and prepare an appropriate response for in order to succeed by selling more of their publications.

  1. The first is the digital revolution. It's been around for some time and it continues to gravely change the industry with the printed world now in electronic format.   This has had a huge impact on how publishers measure 'success' today
  2. The second change is about what is being measured. Content providers (authors, publishing societies, etc.) want their publishers to help them to achieve objectives. Their goals are not necessarily only related to print figures and profit margins.

Publishers that can consistently report reliable and meaningful information about the actual usage of content to their stakeholders will have the business 'edge' - and be able to attract the most interesting content.

In this two-part blog, I will suggest better ways of measuring performance in publishing.  This first blog will discuss a method for measuring success. The next blog will explain in more detail how digitalisation impacts performance management.

Successful publishers are those that appreciate the importance of information to base smart decisions. This is only possible by analysing, benchmarking and tracking key performance indicators.

1) Understand what drives the content providers 

There are many answers to that question, as authors and publishing groups have their own motives for writing a book or an article. A researcher may want to publish to build his/her profile and be recognised as an authority in his/her her field of expertise. Organisations publish because they want to educate people, raise awareness or get support for a 'cause'. People write books to share a passion, or indeed in an attempt, to get rich. As a publisher you need to understand what the motives are from your stakeholders and be able to communicate how you contribute to the success of a publication - however that success is defined.  Authors and publishing societies have not only  become more demanding about what information they want from their publisher, but they also have more and more choice about how they can bring their content to their audience.

The performance indicators your stakeholders are interested in are first of all variations of the questions 'who read my content?' and 'who paid what for my content?'  Depending on the motives of the author, your stakeholder might want to know specific demographic characteristics of the customer (age, sex, address, income, political preference), or more properties of the product sold (hardback, paperback, electronic format, special edition) or details about the sales channel (online shop, high street shop, bulk sale by sales rep?) or even details about the actual sale (level of discount, advertising rights). Examples of key performance indicators that are not directly related to sales and circulation figures are: Achieve a certain level of influence in academic circles; publishing an article (measured by the number of times it is quoted in other publications); achieve a positive 'vibe' around a book you publish which is measured by the comments people leave on social media. 

2) Agree the measures

Once you, as the publisher, understand the motives of the content provider, both parties can define and agree how success is measured.  The measures have to be realistic, not only from a 'sales perspective' (achievable) but also from a 'data' perspective. In other words, are you able to really measure what you want to define as a success indicator? Even if your measures are only related to sales figures it might be surprisingly hard to provide the figures with the level of detail your stakeholders are interested in. Complex sales models and the distribution of electronic content might make it very difficult indeed to allocate revenues to a specific book or article. You have to understand your sales models and the way information is captured in your internal system before you can agree to report on a specific measure periodically. In the next blog I will discuss the complexity related to digital sales channels in more detail.

Some of the information you are asked to report on will not be captured in your operational systems. Examples include reader demographics; sales of competitor products; market research information; usage of content by 3rd parties through licensing. If you need to report on information which you don't have readily available, you have to think about where you get good data from - and about how much you have to pay to get this data.

3) Bring it all together

Once you have identified the required sources for information, you need think about how you are going to integrate the data from these different sources, so you can provide consistent and coherent results about a publication. The challenge here is to implement a framework solution so you can repeat your measurements over time and compare results over time, like for like. Your stakeholders' objectives will change over time, so you need a flexible solution which allows dynamic changes of success factors, without having to redesign the complete solution. A Data Warehouse solution, for example, can give you the flexibility of extracting data from different sources in a controlled way, and integrate this data so it becomes meaningful information, and store this information persistently so it can be further analysed and reported on if and when required.

4) Publish the results

The objective of measuring results is to enable stakeholders to respond to developments in order to improve results. So once you have the results it is important to communicate these. You have to think about how you want to publish the results as different stakeholders might want to consume the results in different ways. There will be some formal, periodical reporting required, through PDFs or printed reports. Some people prefer to do their own analysis on the measurements so they need the tools to flexible slice, dice and visualise the information. Since you should have your information in a Data Warehouse anyway, you just need to think about which tools you use for which user groups. You can then automate the publication process to a large degree.

One import note about publishing results: It is very important to clearly communicate what the results mean and what method was used to collect and compile the results. Certainly over time, the people receiving the results will not be the same people who first agreed the 'Key Performance Indicators'. It is good practise to dedicate a paragraph to definitions and methods of the measurements or in case of online reporting include a hyperlink to your definitions.

5) Continue to evaluate

Business and market trends change over time, and can influence consumer behaviour. Therefore, objectives and metrics need to be referred back to and potentially re-evaluated. Regularly check if the objectives and measures are still relevant for the stakeholders and adjust them if and when necessary.


Publishers need to clearly communicate to their shareholders how they contribute to the success of a publication. For this, you have to have the right measures in place, and the systems and processes to collect and distribute the results.

As a publisher, you may want to take away these recommendations to drive sales:

  • Understand your author's motives and objectives
  • Agree key performance indicators and the method and sources for measuring results
  • Consolidate data into a single view to improve the analysis and reporting of information
  • Publish the information in a shape and form that meets the audience's preferences
  • Continuously evaluate KPIs to make sure they remain relevant to your stakeholders

If you are interested in some of the specific challenges publishers experience around measuring results, specifically those related to electronic content, please have a look at my next blog.

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