The Numbers Game With Books

Jim Bryant“Natural language processing,” “machine-based metadata” – these aren’t phrases that we’re thrown around in editorial meetings or at publishers’ sales conferences until very recently. Behind the IT world jargon, though, is a fairly basic drive to improve “discoverability” in a book world of millions of available titles.

Rather than recommend a book based on what others have bought, as Amazon does, the Trajectory algorithm claims to recommend titles based on which books a reader has previously read. This new focus of attention represents a fundamental breakthrough, according to Trajectory co-founder and CEO Jim Bryant.

“In an industry comprised of content, big data is a new player,” Bryant tells CCC’s Chris Kenneally. “It’s really exciting to apply big data concepts to books and to be able to identify similarities between one book and another book, which surprisingly has never been done before.”

In October, the US Book Industry Study Group annually gave Trajectory its industry innovation award for success at “boldly re-imagining what publishing is and can be.” An intelligent network connecting publishers to retailers, libraries and readers around the world, Trajectory is the first company to develop an algorithmic recommendation system for books.

Previously, James Bryant was Founder and CEO of Information Please, the first comprehensive site on the Internet designed to help students with their homework. He was also Founder and CEO of Pro CD, Inc., the first company to compile in digital form all of the telephone company published directories in the United States and Canada. Pro CD grew to become the largest CD-ROM reference publishing company in the world before it merged with Acxiom in 1996.

With every passing day, the book business is more and more of a numbers game for authors and publishers. The numbers we’re used to tracking – bestseller lists and Amazon rankings – aren’t even the half of it. In a digital world, books are the sum of their parts and the parts are parsed as data.

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