Using Data to Drive Strategy

How NetGalley uses data to frame decision-making and help books succeed

One of the core principles at NetGalley is our focus on data. We give publishers the tools to help them understand and use their data as strategically as possible, and we use data to guide the development of our service.

When we work with publishers on a strategic level, and as we continue to build new features in NetGalley, we are thinking about what data is most valuable to publishers. When we meet with publishers, we hear that you would like more ways to correlate your marketing efforts with activity, or better understand your audience. It’s important for us to know which metrics are most important to you in the pre-publication phase, and how you’re using your results to understand what’s working for your books.

As much as we are encouraging publishers to look at their own data, we are doing the same for ourselves.

And as much as we are encouraging publishers to look at their own data, we are doing the same for ourselves. 

Since early 2019, NetGalley has been working closely with Mandy Fakhoury, our on-staff data scientist, to delve into our own data. She has helped us examine how publishers are using the site, which tools are most used (and how effectively), and how industry trends are manifesting on NetGalley.

For example, with Mandy’s help, we learned which categories within the NetGalley catalog saw a lot of interest, but had relatively few titles listed. We shared the results of that research to encourage publishers in those categories to capitalize on what we learned.

Mandy shared a bit about her work as a data scientist for NetGalley and Firebrand, plus a tip about how lay people can become more comfortable using hard metrics to guide their decision-making.

What is the role of a data scientist? 

The role of a data scientist is extracting meaningful information from data. My job is focused on data management, modeling, and business analysis. The process for any data scientist is defining the problem, collecting the data, understanding and exploring the dataset, and analyzing and communicating the results and findings. Ultimately there’s a question to be answered or a problem to be solved, therefore the majority of my time is spent making sure the data is ready to be analyzed. The remainder of my time is spent on creating models or analyses that give insightful meaning or show certain trends that answer or solve the problem.

What have you observed about how publishing engages with data, compared  to other industries?

Publishers require data to make clear decisions to innovate and better serve their customers. Like  other industries, data is a crucial part of the decision-making process. As an example, most industries use historical trends which allows them to identify which areas have been successful and which ones need improvement. In the publishing world, historical trend is about identifying which genres yielded the most sales and which titles sold the most. 

Any favorite project you’ve worked on for either Firebrand or NetGalley?

I can definitely say I have learned more about natural language processing (NLP) and text analysis within both Firebrand and NetGalley. I have become more familiar with the data that goes into the publishing world. On the Firebrand side I have learned the trend of publishers owning or losing a buy button, as well as whether a sale price is different than the list price provided by a publisher among other insights. On the NetGalley side I have created a Word Cloud based on reviews from members [now live for NetGalley Advanced clients!]. Doing the Word Cloud, I got more comfortable using Flask as well creating applications in R Shiny. I have also gotten a deeper understanding of sentiment analysis as well as text classification and the quality of a text. Overall, every project teaches me something new and that is my favorite part; with data science you never stop learning.

Any advice for non-data scientists to become better at using hard metrics to guide decision-making?

An effective decision is made based on a blend of experience and data. The best approach is understanding your data, the behavior of trends, as well as your audience, and don’t let the data blindly drive your decision. 

Decision making is a critical aspect of success or failure. In this new era, data has become a key part of the decision-making process. Once a problem has been clearly defined, it’s a matter of collecting the appropriate data needed to answer our problem. Data provides us with the information that can be used and processed in different ways to make decisions. A big challenge is knowing how much to rely on the tools at your disposal and how much to rely on your instincts. An effective decision is made based on a blend of experience and data. The best approach is understanding your data, the behavior of trends, as well as your audience, and don’t let the data blindly drive your decision. 

A dedicated data scientist is invaluable to the growth of NetGalley for Kristina Radke, VP of Business Growth & Engagement. 

“Mandy is dedicated to helping us understand all of the activity on NetGalley and find real answers about the use of our site, both by publishers and members. It’s so important to how we plan NetGalley’s continued growth. A gut feeling just isn’t enough to make business decisions! I don’t want to just think about data and activity–it’s critical to my role to understand it and use it to get better and better. I love working closely with Mandy as she collects and analyzes our data, and making space to consider what that data means to us going forward.”


A gut feeling just isn’t enough to make business decisions! I don’t want to just think about data and activity–it’s critical to my role to understand it and use it to get better and better.

Lindsey Lochner, VP of Marketing Engagement, explains that publishers benefit from our increased investment in data analysis. 

“Lately we’ve been hearing more about data analysis from many of the publishers we work with, whether they have an official data scientist (or team) in-house, or their individual marketers have an increased focus on the data available to them. As our clients dig even further into their own data, it’s our goal to help provide some of the missing puzzle pieces that fit into the entire picture of how a book is performing. Mandy helps us visualize and analyze the specific activity and review data that we gather from our platform, so that we can present that back to publishers to help widen their scope.”

When we launched NetGalley Advanced in January 2019, we did so to give publishers even more early data. And as we continue to build out new features and functionality within NetGalley Advanced, every update we are releasing is to help publishers discover a deeper understanding about how you (and any associated imprints) are using the site. Publishers can see how members are interacting with their titles, and how their actions (both on and off NetGalley) affect NetGalley activity, and more.  

We’ve shared some of those data-driven best practices here on NetGalley Insights, including tips on how to develop a data strategy, how to best use the Snapshot PDF, and takeaways from high-performing marketing campaigns in our Proven Strategies series.

We’ll be sharing more dispatches from our internal research here on NetGalley Insights. 

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Giving Publishers the Data They Need: Developing Eloquence on Alert

Firebrand Technologies’s newest service, Eloquence on Alert, gives publishers more access to data about their titles across retail sites than ever before. Through EoA, publishers can keep tabs on any changes to their title information, including changes to sale price, product pages, buy buttons, and third-party seller activity.

Catherine Toolan, Director of Eloquence Services at Firebrand, gave us an inside look at how Eloquence on Alert developed, and some of the surprising ways that publishers are already using it.

What were the origins of EoA?

Eloquence on Alert came out of a simple need for publishers to determine if and how their products were being displayed on retail and reviewer sites. Publishers send out metadata to trading partners and there is very little feedback from those trading partners once the metadata is received. This simple mission planted the seed and from there we have discovered that there is a lot more information we can provide to make it easier for publishers to help their products succeed.

A lot of the impetus for EoA came from Eloquence on Demand users. Many of our clients were sending out the very best metadata that they could on the industry recommended schedule but they were still having issues with the data or the timing of updates on some sites. They also encountered situations where their titles did not appear on some sites at all. As you can imagine, publishers with a large list cannot check retail sites daily for the presence or absence of their titles. Eloquence on Alert grew out of a need to help publishers tackle these and similar problems.

Eloquence on Alert was conceived in 2016, with the first data collection in July of that year.  We released an “alpha” Title Management-dependent version of EoA in 2017 and quickly realized that we needed to pivot and build a SaaS model (software as a service) that would allow for independent product growth.

How does EoA interact with other Firebrand products like Title Management and Eloquence on Demand?

Eloquence on Alert is a standalone product and does not require the use of any other Firebrand products. We will be working to integrate EoA with Eloquence on Demand and NetGalley in the future.

How does EoA fit in with Firebrand’s overall vision around publishing and data?

Firebrand’s flagship products, Title Management and Eloquence on Demand encourage publishers to develop workflows and data management practices that help them to provide some of the best metadata in the industry. Eloquence on Alert takes this a step further and helps publishers fine-tune their practices by drawing attention to trading partner behavior in relation to their metadata content and delivery schedule. The best metadata in the world does not do much for you if your partners are not using it.    

What need does EoA meet for publishers?

Eloquence on Alert monitors critical factors such as fluctuating list and sale prices, changes in sales rank, missing product pages, missing buy buttons, third-party seller activity, marketing assets, review count growth, and audience sentiment. EoA is committed to continued product development and enhancement to meet emerging industry needs.

We know that a select group of publishers have been using EoA in beta. How have you seen them use EoA?

Each of our beta customers is using EoA in a different way. This was somewhat of a surprise! Some are using it primarily to monitor third-party seller activity, some are using it to track missing product pages or price data fluctuation, and some are using the data in their own Business Intelligence systems to augment their internal data analysis.

Did any of them use it in ways that surprised you?

Yes, there are several uses that have surprised me. One that seems obvious to me now but did not initially is the use of EoA to track products that should not appear on certain sites. When certain products appear for sale on a specific site it is a violation and their product management team is alerted so that they can contact the site to have the product(s) removed.

How do you hope publishers will use EoA now that it’s more widely available?

I hope that EoA will become a “first thing in the morning” activity. The EoA results can be used to let you know if there will be any burning issues to deal with today, if any of your products are on the move, or if all is status quo for the day. A simple check-in with EoA can do a lot to inform your priorities.

Where can readers learn more about EoA or see if it’s a good fit for their goals?

The best way to learn more about Eloquence on Alert is to see it in action – words cannot really describe it! Readers can contact our Sales and Marketing department at info@firebrandtech.com to schedule a demo.

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Announcing Eloquence on Alert from Firebrand Technologies

Title performance monitoring to ensure ongoing success in the marketplace

On May 15, Firebrand Technologies announced the launch of Eloquence on Alert. This new service helps publishers confidently and proactively ensure their catalog’s ongoing success through deep data about any changes to their title information across multiple retail sites.

NetGalley and Firebrand Technologies* are dedicated to helping publishers harness data that can be used to help shape decision-making, innovate proactively, and streamline workflows.

Using proprietary data gathering services, EoA helps publishers keep track of critical factors, such as fluctuating sale price, missing product pages, third-party seller activity, mysterious buy button takeovers, and more.

These data points are available to publishers in a dedicated interface, with customizable alerts, as well as search and classification tools to help publishers address problems and leverage opportunities earlier and more efficiently than ever before.

Eloquence on Alert beta testers Dan Fingerman and Anna Patota (Guilford Press) noted, “You work hard to get all the data right, then days, months, or even years later, there’s a wrench in the works. And it could be on a bestseller! Handling this work manually is impossible, but with the right alerts, EoA can point out problems so you can fix them, and quickly.”

With Eloquence on Alert, publishers can

  • Set an alert to warn them when a third party seller takes over the buy box.
  • Watch for spikes in their sales rank so their marketing team can ride the wave.
  • Respond quickly to products with low customer ratings.
  • Determine if recent List Price changes have been posted on key sites

“Eloquence on Alert helps publishers identify issues and trends that would be very difficult to discern otherwise, saving them time and money and allowing for the reallocation of resources to new or different projects,” said Catherine Toolan, Firebrand’s Director of Eloquence Services.

Melissa Wade, Digital Sales Manager of Our Daily Bread Ministries, has also been using Eloquence on Alert in beta. “With hundreds of products (both print and digital), it is impossible to keep track of every piece of metadata for each product. EOA allows me to set alerts to monitor when a piece of that metadata changes so I can know if I need to update that distributor’s metadata. It allows me to know if one of our titles is not included on a particular marketplace. I can learn when I lose the Buy Box on a marketplace. It is an invaluable resource for me to use when we have hundreds of product to oversee in the digital world.”

Eloquence on Alert and NetGalley Advanced are just two of the deliberate steps that Firebrand and NetGalley are taking toward our goal to help publishers harness their data for powerful and actionable insights.

To learn more about Eloquence on Alert, contact Firebrand to schedule a demo, attend an informational webinar on June 18, or visit the Firebrand booth at BookExpo (#1348).

To learn about NetGalley Advanced, contact concierge@netgalley.com, or attend the webinar on June 13.

*NetGalley is part of Firebrand Technologies (www.firebrandtech.com) which provides leading software and services to help publishers achieve success.

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Technology Confidential with BISG

On Tuesday, Feb. 5, we attended BISG’s Technology Confidential program. The panel included Rod Elder of Virtusales, David Hetherington of knkPublishing, George Logan of Klopotek, and Rob Stevens of Firebrand Technologies. Of course, we’re happy for any opportunity to cheer on our colleagues from Firebrand, but we were also there to hear from other panelists and attendees across the industry who are focused on using technology to help publishers get their books into as many hands as possible.

Virtusales, knk, Klopotek, and Firebrand all provide software to help publishers manage multiple aspects of the publishing process from title management to ONIX delivery to rights across multiple divisions and throughout a title’s lifecycle.

The panelists talked about the perils of customization, challenges of changing publishers’ workflows and implementing new technologies, and the importance of clearly-defined strategies at all levels of a company.

Configuration, not customization

The panelists lamented the challenges of leaning too heavily on customizations. While at first it might seem like customization can streamline workflow and tailor software to the unique needs of a specific publisher, all of the tech experts on the panel cautioned against it. The panelists uniformly recommended configuring software instead of customizing. Configuration keeps the basic structure of a software while shaping it to the style specifications and some of the unique needs of an individual company. Customizing requires new code whereas configuring does not.

Customization can make it more difficult for the software to communicate with other softwares, and can make system updates more difficult, resulting in patched solutions upon patched solutions. David Hetherington noted that heading down a road of customization is a road that will ultimately be longer, harder, and more expensive.

This is why publishing-specific software are so important. Rod Elder of Virtusales acknowledged that publishers have unique needs compared to businesses in other industries. The solution is to use publisher-specific software rather than customizing software that is meant for a different industry to make it work for publishing. Publishing-specific software can be specific enough for the unique needs of book publishers so as not to require huge amounts of configuration, but still flexible enough from a UI perspective to fit the quirks of an individual house.  

Consider the costs

David Hetherington gave the audience an acronym for thinking about workflow and technology updates: TCO – Total Cost of Ownership. It forces you to ask: What is the cost of doing things the way they’ve always been done, versus adopting a new technology to solve the problem?

Say a publisher workflow includes manually and frequently enter data in multiple databases for a single title. The publisher should consider both the literal cost of employee hours spent doing repetitive administrative work and keeping a big IT team to deal with bugs, plus the more abstract cost of an employee’s intellectual or creative energy that is left on the table when so many hours of their day are taken up with data entry. The TCO for this workflow might be high enough to necessitate a change in the status quo, either by internally streamlining or by introducing new software to make the process less manual and less repetitive.

Publishers tend to think about implementing new technologies only in terms of the cost of the new software and the time it takes to integrate it into daily operations. But the panelists reminded the audience that there are real costs to consider in these calculations related to maintaining the status quo.

Articulate the “Why”

Rob Stevens of Firebrand reminded the audience how important it is to ask why you and your team do what you do. Why do you fill in that box? Why do you enter data in a specific place or at a specific time? Why does your team need that report? If the reason is “that’s the way we’ve always done it,” you might want to consider dropping that task from your to-do list, which we’re sure is already long enough!

Asking why a company needs certain pieces of data can also help technology solution providers determine the best way to help meet a company’s needs or solve a particular problem for them, and can even drive development on the technology solution provider’s end.

Clearly articulating the “why” can also help ease some of the growing pains of implementing new software and workflows. If all members of a team know why they are being asked to change their day-to-day operations, they are more likely to adopt the new tools and use them successfully. The success of new technologies in a publishing house largely depend on the enthusiastic adoption and experimentation by the people who are using them on a daily basis.


BISG works to create a more informed, empowered and efficient book industry. Its membership includes trade, education, professional and scholarly publishers, as well as distributors, wholesalers, retailers, manufacturers, service providers and libraries.

For more cross-industry knowledge and events, follow BISG on their website, where you can see all upcoming events. You can subscribe to their newsletter here.

And, keep up to date with industry news, trends, and best practices by subscribing to NetGalley Insights.

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Lessons from the Firebrand Community Conference

In late September, Firebrand (NetGalley’s parent company) hosted its bi-annual community conference in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The community conference is an opportunity to bring our clients together from across the industry to swap stories and strategies. And, it’s a chance for us at Firebrand and NetGalley to learn about our clients’ needs. After an intimate conference full of long-time attendees, we’re still mulling over the conversations we had. Here’s what’s still on our mind:

Learn to fail or fail to learn

The conference opened with Firebrand President, Doug Lessing, showing SpaceX’s video of failed attempts to land orbital rocket boosters. Entertaining as it was to watch a bunch of technical fails and explosions, the message was clear; organizations that aren’t afraid to fail will ultimately be the ones to innovate. Experimenting, and learning from those experiments, will help us think ourselves into the future. The publishing landscape is always shifting, and most publishers are still trying to catch up to new audiences, new platforms, and new technologies. It’s only by being open to experimentation (which necessitates failures), that we will be able to meet these new challenges.

It’s not just about getting data, it’s about how you use it

It’s no news to the publishing industry that we need to embrace data more fully as a decision-making tool. But, sometimes it’s hard to know exactly where to get started and how to implement it into our already busy schedules. Fran Toolan, Firebrand’s Chief Igniter, introduced the DIKW framework for thinking about how to integrate data into decision-making. Conference attendees practiced the DIKW process together by examining lists of most popular books from multiple sources during a group session. By looking at different data sets – evaluating what information we can glean from it, what information is missing, and what other data points we might want to correlate – we were learning about how to structure data collection, analysis, and implementation.

New technology doesn’t replace the old

Michele Cobb, Executive Director of the Audio Publishers Association, brought up a surprising fact during her talk on growth in the audiobook market. She said that despite the popularity of digital media consumption and the rise of podcasting, audiobooks on CD don’t appear to be going anywhere. As new tech emerges, such as smartphones with streaming capabilities, old tech does not just go gentle into that good night. In the case of CDs and audiobooks, they are still useful for libraries, car travelers, parts of the world with spotty Internet infrastructure, and more. Additionally, self-published audiobooks can be printed on demand on CD, allowing for more audiobooks to come from more sources. It’s a welcome reminder that the newest and shiniest tool or technology doesn’t necessarily mean the death knell of traditional tools and tech. Ideally, it just means more choice and more access.

Collaboration across industry is key to survival

Publishers are all feeling the effects of a crowded industry. There seem to be infinite books, authors, platforms, publishers, imprints, and content delivery systems, all hoping to get the attention of what can feel like a dwindling market. But, as BISG Executive Director Brian O’Leary reminded us during his keynote, it’s by working collaboratively that we can make real improvements to the industry that will set us up for collective success in the future. By developing shared standards and workflow, we can ensure a more streamlined process throughout the life cycle of book publishing. Doug Lessing’s talk on blockchain brought this message home. He described one potential use of blockchain technology: developing an industry standard, secure platform for all aspects of the supply chain. While this would certainly require a lot of cross-industry conversation and planning, a secure standard platform for all supply chain transactions would streamline the day to day operations across the industry. And it’s only through that planning that all industry players could reap the benefits.

The Firebrand Community Conference is an opportunity for us to come together with our clients to think about how to best prepare for the future of publishing. At both Firebrand and NetGalley, client input, like the conversations we have at the conference, is a leading factor in how our services evolve. We value this opportunity to connect with our clients to better learn what their needs are, and how we can continue to help them reach their goals in a changing industry. We’ll see you all at the next Community Conference!

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