Why don’t publishing houses do more market research? Most industries that sell to the public invest heavily in things like focus groups, surveys, and product testing. This is even done with TV shows and feature films. But it doesn’t seem the publishing industry engages in much market research. Why not?
While many publishers do limited market research when they need an answer to a specific question, it’s not an area of huge investment nor does it drive publishing decisions in general. There are good reasons for this – it’s not an oversight or an accident. Here are my thoughts:
→ Primary market research is suited to a specific product, which wouldn’t be helpful to publishers, who are putting out dozens or hundreds of products each year.
→ It’s difficult to pin down readers with questions of what they like to read. Often they don’t know they like something until they try it. Market research would turn up information that’s inaccurate and irrelevant.
→ The economics of publishing are different from other large industries that spend significant money on market research. Publishers produce more unique products each year than many industries, at smaller margins. It’s probably cheaper just to publish a book and try to sell it than to go through the expense of pre-publication market testing.
→ There are integrity issues with publishing that may not apply to other businesses. Market research implies the author/publisher would change the product to suit the whims of the consumer, something that goes against the grain of writers and publishers.
→ The way publishers conduct “market research” is to keep their fingers on the pulse of the culture, watch the news, stay in touch with trends, and pay attention to the emerging interests of our society. This is more effective than paying for focus groups or surveys.
I asked Michael Hyatt about this and he sent me a link to a terrific blog post from Mark Cuban: Why You Should NEVER Listen to Your Customers. Mark says, “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”
Does this explanation make sense to you? Can you think of circumstances in which market research might be appropriate in publishing?
Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent