what was the question?

Important note: the purpose of this is not to point fingers at any traditional publishers, including the traditional publisher I took this screen shot from. The purpose is to open up the floor to discuss what are important distinctions for preferences, and how these distinctions intersect.

Now that I have that out of the way, consider this:

What the screen shot above is showing is the e-mail newsletter preferences page for Simon & Schuster. The only edits I did to the screen shot were to crop it, and to delete my personal e-mail address from the top right of the page.

The idea is that the newsletter subscriber is supposed to check off all the items shown above which interest them. They will then receive newsletters tailored to those topics.

Sounds great, until you check out the topics. New Releases (which I only checked to show what a checked item looked like) is on the same level as Cooking, is on the same level as Romance, is on the same level as Audiobooks and eBooks. Now, maybe I'm missing out, but the last time I checked, the first item measured all books against publication date, the second and third were genres, and the last pairing were formats.

And perhaps I'm missing out even more, but it seems to me those are not all equivalent preferences. They overlap and intersect with each other.

So, for example, what if I like to listen to audiobook biographies, but prefer my romances in ebook format? Meanwhile, I like my histories in paper format to accommodate all the lovely maps and charts that genre tends to include, but I'm only interested in new releases for cooking, and never in ebook or audiobook format for those (do they even have audiobook cookbooks?). If I select Biography and romance and ebook and audiobook and cooking, are those preferences going to show through?

I'd say they aren't. I'd say all you'd really learn about my preferences is that I don't read Christian, teen, book club newsletters, pop culture, or science fiction. In other words, you've thrown away a perfectly simple opportunity to do some drilling down and learn some positive things about your audience, instead of just negative, absence-of-preferences.

What I'm proposing wouldn't even be much more difficult from either a web design or database structure perspective. The web form would need to have some sort of cascading, enabling controls so that Paper/Ebook/Audiobook choices would appear/enable when you selected a genre. New Releases Only could be another, separate sub-choice, as a checkbox. You could still store all the data in a flat file like this preference data probably is, but you could also normalise a little into multiple tables for ease of querying. Without sketching it out, I'd guess two tables would do it: one for genres, and one for format/age.

That's my first-blush reaction. What do you think? Are Simon & Schuster going to get useful marketing info from this form, or should they recalibrate? Is this not quite ready for a high-level survey of customers, or am I letting the day job seep into the rest of my life too much? The comments are open.