I thought it might be a restful day. After the conferences, after Frankfurt, try another conference, in a different field, and attend as a spectator – NO Speaking. Add the fact that this one was to be held in the Royal Institution (Faraday’s lecture theatre is a favourite place) and that I was invited by an old friend and I anticipated a light day catching up with the good folks in data marketing and what we used to call “list cleansing” years ago. The hosts were DQM (Data Quality Management), who I have known for a long time in different manifestations and the meeting was organized by their magazine, DataIQ, who have developed ways of benchmarking and replicating best practice in data management (www.dqmgroup.com). I settled into my seat prepared to be mildly re-educated: by mid-morning I was in a state of shock, and by the end of the day I was sure that another significant convergence was now locking into place.

Just think back a few years. For the information industry, preposterously concerned with their own proprietory content, data management of this type was simple housekeeping. Keeping lists of customers and prospects in good order was a non-strategic mid-level task. But now we live in a Big Data world, and while speakers urged us to see this as developmental as much as revolutionary, and pointed out how old the concepts are, there was still a feeling in the air that we could know so much more about customers and prospects that our chances of selling them something they wanted were increasing all the time. John Belchambers from Telefonica and Colin Grieves from Experian both hammered home the lesson, but as they were talking about global corporations and global marketing, my head was working furiously in the information products and services space. Think through the future of marketing information and the future of “publishing” (or creating information services and solutions) and you come out at the same place: The Market of One.

Noel Penrose, the former COO of Interbrand, made a vital intervention when he reminded us that Brand can be valued, and so can Data. We are not living in a place where data becomes commoditized if we are perpetually developing market-leading techniques for qualifying and comparing it. It was around this time that I saw why the agenda was dovetailed between speeches by two eminent futurologists. Melanie Howard, the chair of the Future Foundation advisory service began the day in fine form, and Dr Ian Pearson, formerly BT’s futures man, ended it. Both gave excellent value in predictive terms, but their effect on me in terms of  the information marketplace was to drive me towards the Market of One prediction and what it means for all of us.

They reminded us of some things that we should know already. Demographic change should be the first stop in every strategic enquiry. In a sensor dominated society, each of us will be in receipt of 2 gigabytes a day of unsolicited content, and equally, as we walk and talk and move around the networks, we shall create as much again each day. While we talk about “mass customization” in a hopeful way, the drive to personalization, both in terms of marketing  and services, is surely inexorable. Having just come from Frankfurt, where I moderated a panel on what we called “network publishing” I can testify to the willingness of producers to think about “customized textbooks” (CourseSmart) or custom workflow for lawyers (Wolters Kluwer Germany) but can we really see beyond that?

Christine Andrews, DQM’s Managing Director, certainly sees the regulatory issues (another round of European Community privacy law belt-tightening is due in 2015), but sees beyond it as well. One of the criteria for value may well become the quality of data governance in a business, and its ability to audit and report its own performance. But she is very right to point to the barrier that consumer-based legislation creates at the moment – and will increasingly in the US as that market catches up with European concerns. So turn that upside down for a moment. I could well predict, from what I heard this week, that we shall see a market where the power of the customer steadily increases to the point where powerful consumers are able to save and make private all aspects of their performance as network users, enabling them to sell it back to suppliers and marketeers in return for – coupons, discounts, customized products and services. In this permissioned world we shall have different levels or strata of market optimization – I can make this service fit a class of people who behave like you, or to fit your behaviours specifically.

So what classes of data will have most value: objective data, derived from observation of what happens on the networks which is commonly usable by all, or subjective data, derived from individual transactions and owned by the individual themselves? The latter, I imagine, but by gaining permission to use the latter, or enough of it, we could add real value to the former. This is what the Financial Times do, I hope, when they assess the reading habits of 300,000 recordable readers every day using Deep View. The inestimable Chuck Richards at Outsell took us down this track in his note this week (October 15) on 1 to 1 marketing, which also indexed companies like IDG Techsignals and Scout Analytics (www.outsellinc.com).

I came down the road from the Royal Institution grateful to my hosts for a reminder that the future is part of the present, and that marketing data and content data are all data in the context of an individual customer’s requirement.

I first saw it behind the Chairman’s left ear. Being still here at Frankfurt for the Book Fair I am spending my life on exhibition stands, literally measuring it out in coffee spoons, as the poet has it. But as my gaze went beyond the ear of the great man, it encountered the slogan that heads this piece. Then I realized it was his company screen saver, and once I was attuned I realised that I had been seeing it on stickers all week. Who is doing this? Is some Gutenberg Protection Society at work? And if the time has come to “Save the Book” then where do I stand?

The Chairman was no help; he said that some people wanted it, and some people thought that digital had “gone too far”. But no indication of who some people are or whether he was one. So I was left with  a sense of puzzlement and resentment. If you promulgate a slogan like this, it cannot be because you just thought it was a good idea in the bar – it means you think that the book is threatened. And nothing is more threatening for the book than people thinking it is threatened. Prophecies are usually self-fulfilling. And I live in a house gloriously crammed with books from room to room, yet I work with digital futures and ideas. Do I have to choose? I resent that idea hugely.

Technologies change, and people change, but no law of nature says that formats must stay the same, or that you cannot enjoy using several at once. Did cinema die when television arrived? Or radio? Is it wrong to watch a film in a plane? Or listen to the radio on a computer? I have therefore sent in an order for some stickers of my own. I am starting with “Papyrus will never die” and once that has sunk in I will move to “Codex will never die”. When we have whole populations in the mood for this I shall produce my ultimate sticker, “Data will never die”.

Meanwhile, as well as chairmen we have had launches and networking. I dutifully went to Frankfurt’s first Digital Night in a club in the Hirschgraben. Reminded me of First Tuesday in 1999. Everyone spoke at once, the beer was warm and you could not hear the speaker, Joe Wikert, from ten feet away. And there were launches for Beagle, the new eReader that downloads from a smartphone, and for BookShout (excellently covered by Laura Hazard Owen in PaidContent: http://paidcontent.org/2012/10/10/bookshout-pulls-users-kindle-nook-books-onto-other-platforms/). This cloud-based environment, fully endorsed by a growing tranche of major publishers and backed by Ingram, is clearly seen here as a way of breaking the awful power of Apple and Amazon over the book trade. Which takes me back to the beginning of this piece yet again.

I have been a reader for well over 50 years and have recorded the title and author of every book that I have read in that time. I could be said to be an ardent consumer. The only awful power that I have experienced in that time has been the tyranny of publishers (and having been one myself I can testify from experience!). How often do I complain about the lack of an index or a bibliography? How often do I lament the scattering of muddy black and white images in even the most recent books? Or the unleaded 9 point Caslon Old face which is giving me a headache? Or the lack of  generous margins or the ability to associate footnotes with what I am reading rather than keeping my thumb in the back matter?

In the network the publisher could give me options. All of these complaints could be rectified. I could have an index, have larger type (and not just within the limitations of the eReader that I am using). I could associate video and colour images – and, if I wanted to, I could send my version to my friends or get Ingram to print a version for me. If publishers would give me a license. But publishers are stuck in the commodity stage of human development. They want to sell little paper packages that are all identical. They do not yet feel the force of the first lesson of the network; “When everyone is connected to everyone, the power of one becomes more dominant than ever before in human history”.

Personalization and mass customization will come, even to the book industry. BookShout ia helpful, even as it asserts the inalienable right of the individual to play the content she bought on the device that she currently favours. And the Book in its broadest sense is already in irreversible retreat. The Phone Book, Yellow Pages and the Directory have already gone (swiftly pursued by declining newspapers and magazines). The Textbook is seldom now a textbook, being interactive, shared and, in the best instances, updated in real time. Huge extensions of the fiction market have taken place in Hockings and Locke territory – the 99 cent dramas produced via Amazon to give reading to smartphone and tablet readers on public transport, in seeming emulation of the demand cycle of Japanese commuters over the past decade – but popular fiction is not growing and literary fiction remains a loud noise in a small space, as it ever was. Predictably serious non-fiction will be the next area to feel the weight of change – and if it leads to the creation of better books then that is all to the good.

And Frankfurt could become a place to visit in the network as well as on weary feet. Meanwhile, I just have the energy for one more slogan for a sticker “Support the digital network – bringing more books to more readers than book marketing managed in the last 100 years!”

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