Digital Book World: Can Data Analysis Make Us More Human?

Posted: February 5, 2017  |  Updated: December 9, 2022

Digital Book WorldAt DBW (Digital Book World) 2017, one idea stood out: data analysis & creative insights might be the only way to save our humanity & productivity (sort of).

The 2017 DBW Conference was a jam-packed two days of thoughtful discussion. Publishing veterans and digital experts gathered to examine recent developments in technology and perspective, and take an exciting look at how emergent technologies and integrations will affect and enrich both sectors of media. Across many sessions and presentations, one common thread emerged:

Data makes us more human—not less.

Many people balk at the integration of technology and data into the very subjective and human industry that is publishing, so this thesis was practically subversive; but it makes sense. In Pittis’s session, she explained that at its heart, data analysis and integration exists to help individuals understand the effects of their actions and decisions. Its goal is not to heartlessly proscribe anything, but to allow individuals to grow more introspective, think from variable perspectives, and understand themselves and their organizations more fully.

But, reality remains intact, and Macmillan CEO John Sargent spoke to it with realism and optimism simultaneously. In his opening speech,  Sargent conceded that the publishing industry an instinct-driven business. But, he was quick point out, its survival and opportunity to thrive means it can’t stay that way, exclusively.

“It can’t be instinct alone,” he said. “Data can be used to improve every decision, every day, from acquisitions to marketing and sales. “

or, as Publisher’s Weekly Editorial Director Jim Milliot put it :“the gut is finely tuned, but it needs to be checked and verified.”

The level of data-integration advocated by many at the conference is not a totally radical idea. It’s been proven in other industries in the past twenty years. Measuring, evaluating, and implementing the revelations that detailed and diverse data analysis produces results in steady growth, higher profit margins, and a more engaged, productive, and happy workforce.

And that workforce in the publishing industry is changing. It’s always been a pretty young, female workforce, but now the majority of entry and mid-level employees are millennials: the first generation to see the full-fledged integration of data and technology into every level of their lives. Sargent pointed out that the expectations of productivity and insight they hold as a result will drive change on a day-to-day level sooner than some may expect. “Millennials have a completely different expectation of how the corporation should be run,” he said. “And I don’t see it as a conflict, but as a good thing. I see it as looking at where we have been and where we can go.”

In aggregate, the benefits of data implementation and ceding to the tech-hungry millennial workforce were largely pointed to as:

  • Drive richer content development, deeper market reach, and more significant growth, both editorially and financially.
  • Diverse data sources means increased efficiency — you aren’t spending time gathering the data, but instead enacting the data.
  • Empirical, a “fully curated, single version of the truth” as Greg Sitzman stated in a surprisingly poetic manner..
  • Historic data collection and measurement can differentiate trends from fads, and those trends can be used to infer intent, and then drive nuance in action.
  • Empower everyone from executives to individual contributors with relevant, actionable insights
  • “This century is about building intelligent teams,” noted operational consultant and publishing industry veteran Carolyn Pittis. Valuation of data and insights from it creates a more engaged interaction in the workplace.