According to Bowker Market Research, e-commerce has dominated the market with online retailers capturing 44% of sales in 2012. Not only are consumers purchasing more eBooks from digital stores, but they’re buying print editions from those retailers as well. These findings beg an important question for all publishers - how do you effectively market your product in this unique digital space? One thing is for certain; traditional, invasive marketing tactics won’t work online. Pull is the new push, so understanding the consumer is more important than ever before, and publishers are turning to data for the answers.

Unlike traditional publishing, digital publishing is based on the premise that each experience with the product is unique, which means publishers need to know their customers, or in this case their visitors, better than their competition in order to succeed. Virginia Rometty, President and CEO of IBM, has commented on how important big data will be to organizations of every type as they compete in a digital space. “When it comes to decisions, they’ll be made on predictive analytics and data. When it comes to creating value, the social network will be a production line,” she explained. “And when it comes to delivering value, it will be the individual; it will not be a segment.”

This notion has met some pushback from folks in the industry who fear that the use of data will lead to a situation where the consumer dictates content creation. However, it’s important to note that data analysis doesn’t necessarily have to drive content; it should merely serves as a tool for insight into consumer behavior and preference.

Other industries have incorporated data and feedback into their content creation processes, and have seen a great deal of success from the use of this model. Netflix, for example, uses data to determine whether or not they should invest in buying the rights to host a new season on their platform. This isn’t a novel practice in the film and television industry, but it is a perfect example of how data can strategically direct marketing efforts. Netflix might even begin to use data such as volume, color and scenery to gain a better understanding of viewer preference. This semantic approach to uncovering just how the consumer thinks is not unheard of, in fact, it could likely function as the basis of search in the future.

What does this have to do with publishing? With talk of eBook bundling and alternatives to traditional business models in the works, there’s no doubt that the industry is evolving to meet the needs of a burgeoning digital market, which means accepting data as an integral piece of the puzzle. As we mentioned earlier this year, publishers have begun to purchase analytic start-ups with the hopes of measuring the effectiveness of their online and digital strategies. Analyzing such data can help publishers determine the best method of delivering content to consumers, while also providing them with the tools necessary to make decisions about which formats best support their content. This information can also provide valuable insight onto the effectiveness of social networks; which delivery mechanisms serve certain products best, and whether and what types of apps should be developed to match those needs.

Without consumer data analysis, publishers will grow unaware of the wants and needs of the market as we shift towards a digital retail environment. It will be interesting to see how the use of data is factored into the landscape of 2014, and just how much this information will affect book and content sales across all platforms.