Nielsen Books and Consumers Report 2020

Nielsen Books & Consumers reportLast week’s Nielsen webinar unveiled the results of the 2020 Nielsen Books & Consumers report, this year subtitled “The Importance of Metadata for Discoverability and Sales.”

Survey Basis

Nielsen is the lead body in charge of UK book registrations through ISBN’s. It has a vested interest in collecting book metadata that it can supply to the publishing industry for a profit. While the headline stats on the state of the market in 2019 are of passing interest, those aren’t the point of the report.

Nielsen BookScan tracks physical book sales using point-of-sale retail data. Nielsen Books and Consumers is a monthly survey of around 3,000 book buyers aged 13-84 that are ‘nationally representative of the UK population’. Insights on the UK book market as a whole are based on asking buyers a range of questions about the books they have bought. Across all book formats, who is buying which books, where from and why?

The survey attempts to address the entire market. It looks at formats (paperback, hardback, e-book, audio book) and broad ‘genre’. This is actually market sector (Adult Fiction, Adult Non-Fiction, Children’s) not genre at all.

Sample Size

The issue I have is that Nielsen BookScan’s Total Consumer Market panel has more than 6,000 book retail outlets in the UK. That’s volume sales of 192m, and value sales at £1.67bn. Nielsen Books and Consumers Report surveys 3,000 consumers a month (presumably mostly the same consumers each month). It is arguably not a great statistical sample to represent such a huge market. That isn’t to belittle the immense effort of conducting a rolling survey of this kind. But anyone who follows the BBC’s More or Less statistics show  will recognise the effect that sample size and composition can have on results. Especially where the 3,000 sample consumers have to be representative of all ages, incomes, geographic spread and literary interest. It makes for very small segments indeed.

Also the 2020 report is based on 2019 data, compared to 2018 to establish trends. You have to question the usefulness of producing data in November for a twelve-month period that ended eleven months ago. Before the global pandemic and economic shock wave. For a fast-moving and evolving publishing market, this is almost like looking back on the Black Death or the Spanish Flu.

So the report shows various interesting but historical facts about sales volumes, values, splits by age band and market sector. All of which have been overtaken by seismic changes in the industry since January.

The Metadata Drive

This isn’t really what the report is about, however. The second half, How do People Discover Books, is concerned with the value-added proposition of submitting more metadata about books. Metadata means long and short descriptions, author bio’s, keywords and categories. In fact, the more metadata you supply, Nielsen argues, the more ‘discoverable’ is a given title across the supply chain.

How do you submit metadata? Why, through Nielsen, of course. They have an Enhanced Service, don’t you know.

I suspect those of us networked in the industry know very well what is and isn’t useful for selling books. Certainly a much better idea of who is buying what week by week.

2019? That’s ancient history.

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