Managing Metadata in Today’s Marketplace
by Marcella Smith
For readers, this is a wonderful time. Now that the consumer’s choice is no longer limited by the physical constraints of one particular format, it is possible to walk down the street reading a book, a magazine, or a newspaper on a telephone or any of the other electronic devices that permit such an activity. Readers can still visit local libraries and do research or browse in the stacks, but they can also choose to use the library’s resources online. They can download public domain information at no cost, and that download is no longer limited to the traditional (soon to be antique) desktop computer. It can be sent to an e-reader, a tablet, a phone, or a laptop.
It is also a good time for the book business, as a look back shows. The market for content of all kinds, and for books in particular, has been expanding consistently for more than half a century.
Growth continued from the paperback revolution of the 1940s (which experts warned surely heralded the death of the hardcover) and the trade paperback revolution of the mid-’70s (which prompted the very same warnings) through the explosion of hardcover sales in the mid-’80s (when unit sales for a variety of titles soared into the millions, thanks to discounting and bookstores in the ever-expanding shopping centers around the country).
And the industry kept growing with the introduction of the audiobook format (first on tape and then CDs), the advent of desktop publishing (followed quickly by print on demand), bookselling on the Internet, and the latest iteration of digital publishing, the e-book.
All this means that the publishing industry has the opportunity to find more readers for more content than ever before in history, and all of it relates to consumers’ choice of price and/or convenience and to a widening customer base for content. Although where and how the customer obtains content will continue to evolve, the price and convenience factors that drove the success of bestsellers now prevail across the whole available title base and drive purchasing to online booksellers in greater numbers than ever before.
But when they get there, consumers have to find the content they want, and may want to buy. How and when consumers discover content depends on the publisher’s ability to deliver high-quality metadata about it into the marketplace efficiently.
Metadata as a Marketing and Sales Tool
You may be in a partnership with the most sophisticated distribution company in the industry, or you may be handling the distribution of your titles directly, but either way the distribution network of libraries, wholesalers, and retailers—online and bricks and mortar—is helpless without the complete record of a product in all its iterations.
As with most things in life, timing is everything. In today’s competitive marketplace, it is essential that the data about content in all its formats arrive at all the resellers and libraries at the same time. The longer the time between the announcement of the content and its availability to the consumer, the better equipped the resellers and the libraries are to gauge the interest level of their customers, and preorder accordingly.
The volume of preorders can be significantly higher if the data are available six months prior to delivery of the product into the marketplace, rather than 30 days.
A publisher’s consistent performance in data delivery to the marketplace, with the concomitant consistence of timely delivery, makes the publisher a reliable trading partner, one that can be trusted to deliver the goods as promised, and that therefore earns enthusiasm for its products and willingness to promote them from its trading partners.
Where to Find What You Need to Know
Information about content is referred to as metadata because it comprises a set of data that describes and gives information about other data.
The Book Industry Study Group (bisg.org), which has worked steadily to establish standards for product metadata, has published several documents that articulate the basic metadata elements, as well as best practices for using them.
For detailed, plain-English information about these elements, see “Desperately Seeking Good Data,” Linda Carlson’s three-part series, available via ibpa-online.org.
And for a wealth of information about ONIX (the format used to deliver the data) and the industry metadata standards, including the BISAC Core Metadata Elements, visit bisg.org/what-we-do-cat-21-product-metadata.php.
It is important to create individual identifiers for each discrete e-book format of a work, which will allow you to track each format’s performance in the marketplace—thus giving you insight into customer shopping patterns by channel, format, and price. A BISG white paper on digital content identifiers (bisg.org/what-we-do-18-79-the-identification-of-digital-book-content.php) is the first step in establishing best practices for identifying digital book content.
Recognizing certain realities in the competition for the consumer’s business between online and bricks-and-mortar retailers, BISG also created a best practice document for setting an on-sale date that is consistent for all formats/iterations for a title (see bisg.org/what-we-do-12-143-on-sale-date-compliance-recommended-best-practices.php; and “On-Sale Dates: Best Practices for Today’s Marketplace” from February, which you can find in the Independent archives at ibpa-online.org).
I also suggest that you check the BISG site from time to time for new information about metadata.
Making It All Work
For many publishers, managing the metadata delivery to all the industry entities that need to receive it can be an overwhelming task. An alternative is hiring a company such as NetRead or Firebrand Technologies to deliver data in a consistent format as customers require. However, a smart publisher will follow up on the delivery into the marketplace to ensure accuracy of the data as it appears on the Web sites and in the databases of its major customers.
Smart publishers, in partnership with the creators of the content they publish, will also define and exploit all rights in the content so that all consumers can indeed find the content they are looking for in the format they want whenever they want or need it.
And smart publishers will make decisions about how they manage their distribution in conjunction with a review of how best to support their content with efficient delivery of data, delivery of the digital content the data describe, and management of inventory through the use of print on demand, as well as attention to shipping physical books. Coordination among the various providers has to be airtight to enable you to deliver the content to your customers whenever, however, and wherever they chose to purchase it.
Marcella Smith is the principal operating officer of Marcella Smith Associates, providing services to authors as a literary agent, and working with publishers to resolve distribution challenges. Prior to establishing her own firm, she was director, Small Press and Vendor Relations, for Barnes & Noble, Inc. She can be reached at email@example.com.