Book Marketing Q&A: David Boyle, HarperCollins, On Understanding Consumers

In What's the Buzz by Hannah Johnson

David Boyle, Senior VP, Consumer Insight, HarperCollins

David Boyle, Senior VP, Consumer Insight, HarperCollins

Hear David Boyle speak at the Reaching Readers Book Marketing Conference on May 28 in NYC!

PP: Why is it important for publishers to have a deeper understanding of consumer behavior?

David: Consumers are getting more and more complex, and so is our business. To better serve our authors we need to understand a LOT of rapidly changing things. But we don’t have time to analyze every issue as and when it comes up, so we need to build a deep understanding of consumers that we can carry around in our heads. Asking for a report on most issues in most meetings doesn’t scale. But we can build an understanding that we can then use for most issues in most meetings.

In this newly created position of SVP of Consumer Insights at HarperCollins, what are you hoping to accomplish over the next 12 months?

So far I’ve worked with the business to tease out their ideas and understanding of how we connect our authors with their consumers nowadays. Then we ran research projects in four countries to validate, challenge and to more deeply understand this … and also to tie it back to the books, authors, genres and celebrities that we’re working with via a set of HarperCollins Consumer Segments that we’ve produced. So we’re doing big, powerful research to help us to understand the market and to enable us to help all of our authors, but we’re also tying it in to very actionable projects that we’re working on to make sure we can help individual authors right away. We’re now deep in the middle of working that through with the people working on each of those projects around the world to practice using the insight and to learn how to best refine that insight to make it really shine for people day-to-day.

Are you gathering and analyzing consumer trends around the world, or is the focus on English-language markets?

We’re starting with the markets where we have big operations, since they’re the places we know best. But we’ve designed the research to be truly global. And so, once we’re happy that it’s making a big difference in our core markets, we’ll pretty quickly scale it to other important countries. We believe that understanding an author’s opportunities and consumers globally is a key part of the service that we can offer our authors.

What has surprised you the most so far about book consumers?

I knew absolutely nothing about book consumers before I started work in February. That independence made me wonderfully unbiased, but also surprised by a lot of things: The mass of people who still don’t read digitally; the importance of physical books to even the most hard-core digital consumers; the importance of book stores in discovery; the scale of passion for books relative to music and other forms of entertainment and therefore the big opportunity that exists.


David Boyle joined HarperCollins as Senior Vice President of Consumer Insight in February 2013. EMI, where he was SVP of Insight for EMI Music, overseeing the team that delivers insight to all parts of the business in more than 25 countries. His work contributed to decision making at all levels of the company, from artist signing to product development and marketing plans for EMI’s biggest artists like The Beatles and Pink Floyd. He was also Director of Insight at zeebox, which is using rich consumer surveys and detailed user information to drive product development and product / relationship personalization.

Along with Ardy Khazaei (CEO,, Jo Henry (Global Director, Bowker Market Research) and David Daley (Executive Editor, Salon, and Founder/Editor of FiveChapters), Boyle will speak at the Reaching Readers Book Marketing Conference on May 28 about “Tuning In to Consumers” and how publishers can better understand their target audience. We hope to see you there!

About the Author

Hannah Johnson


Hannah Johnson is the publisher of international book industry magazine Publishing Perspectives, which provides daily information and news about book markets around the world. In addition to building partnerships with international cultural and trade organizations, she works with the Frankfurt Book Fair to organize and support a number of its overseas initiatives. Hannah has also worked as the managing editor for an online media company, The Hooch Life, focused on craft distillers and cocktail experts. Prior to that, she worked as a project manager for the Frankfurt Book Fair’s New York office, managing various business and marketing activities.