As a business and marketing graduate, I’m fascinated by the ways in which numbers drive decision making. A thorough understanding of the market really should be factored into all business decisions, which, in the book trade, equates to a heavy reliance on Nielsen.

Nielsen collects quantitative data on consumer book sales across territories, providing statistics on overall markets, market trends, genre, and publisher sizes. With Nielsen’s wealth of information in mind, it is hardly surprising that the highlight of the annual Publishing Scotland conference for many attendees is Research Director Steve Bohme’s overview of the year’s UK book market. He delves into demographics and genres with a healthy dash of humour. The fact that the content of his talk is under embargo until Nielsen’s own conference on March 13th adds value to the information, as does the unfortunate reality that few Scottish publishers have the financial resources to invest in Nielsen BookData services.

Bohme led a whistle-stop tour through increases and decreases in volume and value sales across formats, breaking the data down further by examining them by demographic segment. One of the most useful elements of the talk was a rundown of the “hero” genres within non-fiction, fiction and children’s books, while the section on purchasing behaviours and decision-making was thought-provoking. Bohme provided a fascinating look into the influential factors in buying books, whether purchased by the consumer or for someone else, and whether planned or unplanned.

Data enthusiasts were in for a treat, as this year’s break-out sessions additionally included a talk from Nielsen’s Anne-Claire Woodfield, following on from Bohme’s talk, and providing greater insight into the numbers across categories. Woodfield acknowledged that there is a difference in book sales between Scotland and England – books that sell well in this neck of the woods don’t necessarily achieve the same sales south of the border. Woodfield also highlighted the gap between average selling price (ASP) and recommended retail price (RRP), discussing the difference as an indicator of perceptions of value among consumers.

Woodfield peppered her talk with practical tips – looking at data is one thing, while deciding how to apply that data to the real world is absolutely another. She suggested that the current political climate offers opportunities for reissuing backlist titles, and pointed out that an awareness of major titles’ launch dates is essential in avoiding being drowned out by such publications.

Though the sheer quantity of numbers was overwhelming at times, both Nielsen talks were hugely valuable. It may seem odd to be inspired by discussions of the industry in numbers, but the analysis was generally positive, and seeing book buying (and publishing) behaviour presented in such a way was reassuring.

If you would like to know more about Nielsen Book and the data they provide to the trade, click here.