Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Digital Book World's new eBook bestseller list is being compiled by a Big 6 employee

Yesterday, the Digital Book World website owned by F+W Media announced a new bestseller list for eBooks, and claimed that its methodology would make the list more accurate than those published by other sources. In its release of the first edition of the list, Jeremy Greenfield, the site's Editorial Director, wrote that the new list is "a new weekly venture from Digital Book World in partnership with Iobyte Solutions." There's nothing more in the article that describes Iobyte Solutions. A press release announcing the new list has extensive quotes from Greenfield, F+W Media Chairman and CEO David Nussbaum, Iobyte Solutions "managing partner" Dan Lubart, and several others. Other than the quote from Lubart, nothing in the release describes Iobyte Solutions. Finally, Lubart himself wrote a post on Digital Book World, describing the methodology used for compiling the list. Here's how Lubart describes himself in the post:

About Dan Lubart

Dan Lubart is a technology strategist and data junkie who founded Iobyte Solutions in 2000 following a previous decade of solo consulting. Still fairly new to the publishing industry, Dan has been involved with digital disruption in the past, spending a year at Universal Music Group right around the time Napster was rearing its head and now focuses mainly on the familiar challenges and opportunities of the eBook marketplace. With Iobyte, Dan also developed a very cool consumer learning site for Scholastic, and has consulted with major clients in banking, pharmaceuticals, retail and media. Amidst his other current professional endeavors, Dan devotes great chunks of time to enhancing and marketing Iobyte’s eBook MarketView service (retail data and analytics on both physical and eBooks for publishers). Follow him at hiswebsite and on Twitter.
There's just one problem with all of this: Dan Lubart is also the Senior Vice President of Sales Analytics at HarperCollins. That's right--a senior sales executive with one of the Big 6 publishers is responsible for compiling an "unbiased" list of bestselling eBooks. I wouldn't have known anything about this if Mike Shatzkin hadn't mentioned it in passing in his blog. When I first read Shatzkin's blog, I was sure that I was reading it wrong--surely Lubart had worked at HarperCollins before leaving to set up Iobyte Solutions, but a quick check with LinkedIn showed that I read it correctly. Lubart is apparently continuing to run Iobyte Solutions while he also works for HarperCollins.

This opens up an enormous can of worms. Did Greenfield and Nussbaum not know that Lubart had a massive conflict of interest? Mike Shatzkin certainly did, and he's quoted in the press release that announced the new bestseller list. If Greenfield and Nussbaum did know, why didn't they reveal that information? They had plenty of opportunities to do so. Unless Lubart was suffering from a case of selective amnesia, he should have revealed his employment in the post he made describing the list's methodology. He spent an entire paragraph talking about his background, with no mention whatsoever that he's currently employed by HarperCollins.

Any argument that Digital Book World or F+W Media might make about Lubart's ability to somehow keep a "Chinese wall" in his head separating his duties at HarperCollins from his work for Digital Book World is laughable. This is an inherent conflict of interest. It should have been fully disclosed, and even then, it undercuts the impartiality of the list. The best thing that Digital Book World could do is admit what happened and separate itself entirely from Iobyte Solutions and Mr. Lubart. Another option would be if Mr. Lubart ends his employment at HarperCollins, declines to accept any consulting business from the company, and works full time at Iobyte Solutions. Failing that, the Digital Book World list has to be seen as inherently unreliable.

Update, August 21, 2012: Nate Hoffelder at The Digital Reader picked up on the story, and contacted Digital Book World to ask some questions. As of this writing, DBW hasn't responded to Hoffelder, but after it received Hoffelder's request, it edited Dan Lubart's biography to add a mention of his employment at HarperCollins:

About Dan Lubart

Dan Lubart is a technology strategist and data junkie who founded Iobyte Solutions in 2000 following a previous decade of solo consulting. Dan currently works with HarperCollins as S.V.P. of Pricing and Sales Analytics while concurrently managing Iobyte and the eBook MarketView service providing retail data and analytics on both physical and ebooks. (Emphasis added.) Still fairly new to the publishing industry, Dan has been involved with digital disruption in the past, spending a year at Universal Music Group right around the time Napster was rearing its head and now focuses mainly on the familiar challenges and opportunities of the eBook marketplace. With Iobyte, Dan also developed a very cool consumer learning site for Scholastic, and has consulted with major clients in banking, pharmaceuticals, retail and media. Follow him at hiswebsite and on Twitter.
Note that DBW didn't just add a mention of Lubart's employment at HarperCollins--it also edited other parts of the biography out. They did this without explaining the reason why, and without addressing Lubart's conflict of interest. In addition, note the wording that "Dan currently works with HarperCollins as S.V.P of Pricing and Sales Analytics...", implying that his relationship with HarperCollins is that of a consultant or contractor, when his LinkedIn resume makes it clear that he works FOR HarperCollins as a full-time employee.

F+W Media's and Digital Book World's logic for how they're handling this revelation isn't clear to me. Surely Lubart isn't the only researcher in the country who could put together this bestseller list. I've done market research and industry analysis for years, and what Lubart says he's doing is nothing that literally thousands of other analysts couldn't do. Instead, DBW's actions are like the New York Times hiring the head researcher for the Obama or Romney campaign to do its election polling, and responding "Yeah? So what?' when the truth is discovered. No organization with any pretensions to journalism would act this way, so the question becomes, what kind of organization is Digital Book World, and why should anyone believe that its eBook bestseller list, or anything else it publishes, is untainted by conflicts of interest?
Enhanced by Zemanta
Post a Comment