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Metadata Impacts Book Sales

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PUBLISHED JULY/AUGUST 2018

by Joshua Tallent, Director of Outreach and Education, Firebrand Technologies —


Joshua Tallent

Is your book’s metadata hurting or helping your sales? IBPA Board Member Joshua Tallent explains the importance of getting your metadata right.

IBPA Publishing University 2018 was, by all measures, a complete success. We had record attendance, powerful engagement, and some of the best training content available in the independent publishing space.

When I teach at conferences, I tend to cover what most people would consider to be boring or complex topics: metadata, digital publishing, e-books, etc. I have to admit, too, that I have seen people fall asleep in my sessions before.

However, I have never seen the sustained, engaged response I got from my metadata workshops on the first day of PubU and my metadata and keywords sessions the following days. It wasn’t just that the attendees were engaged with the content and seemed to be getting a lot out of it. What surprised me was how often I heard the word “metadata” as I was walking through the halls. It seemed like everyone was starting to see the truth that I have been preaching for years: The quality of your metadata will have a direct impact on your sales.

That message is backed up by years of research across the publishing industry. Nielsen (now NPD) released a report at the end of 2016 called, “The Importance of Metadata for Discovery and Sales.” That study found that 2.5 million different books in the United States had sales of some kind in the 12 month study period (July 2015 to June 2016), but most of those books did not sell many copies.

To narrow the field, the study focused on the top 100,000 best-selling titles. That is only 4 percent of the total books with sales during that time period, but it represents approximately 86 percent of total book sales. From my perspective, one definition of success might be your book’s ability to show up in that 4 percent.

This is where the study starts to get really interesting, though. Nielsen looked at this list of 100,000 titles and compared their use of different metadata elements with their sales numbers. The results are impressive.

Titles with all of the most basic, foundational metadata elements (ISBN, title, format/binding, publication date, BISAC subject code, retail price, sales rights, cover image, contributor) have average sales 75 percent higher than those that don’t. This is the baseline. Before you even start thinking about other metadata like book descriptions, you have to think about the basics.

This is even more true of fiction titles, where average sales are 170 percent higher with basic metadata than without. So, if you have a novel, it is imperative that you pay attention to the metadata you create and send to retailers.

Titles that include a cover image have sales 51 percent higher than those without. Admit it, we all judge a book by its cover. Including a cover image can make a huge impact on sales, especially if you have thought through the quality of the image. Make sure it is large enough to not be negatively impacted by scaling on different websites, and be sure the book title is readable at thumbnail sizes.

Descriptive metadata makes a difference, too. Titles with all three descriptive data elements (description, author biography, and reviews) see average sales 72 percent higher than those with no descriptive data. Note that this not just limited to the author bio or the description; this includes both of those, plus the professional reviews and endorsements. Consumers want to know what others think about the book, and reviews and endorsements are some of the most effective ways to pass along that information.

Last, but definitely not least, titles in the study group that have keywords assigned see average sales 34 percent higher than titles with no keywords. Keywords are one of the most important pieces of metadata you can provide for your book, especially on Amazon.

At Firebrand, we conducted a study of our own in 2017, in conjunction with the keyword creation company Kadaxis. While not all of the titles that were assigned keywords saw an increase in sales, the increase among those that did was an average of 20 percent. Some titles saw an increase in sales above 150 percent. (You can read more about that research study at firebrandtech.com/keywords.)

As you can see, the quality of your metadata matters. How you describe your book will impact how your potential consumers will find it, and you want your book to be as discoverable and as visible as possible.

I recommend every publisher take time to develop a solid metadata strategy for their books. Decide where you will keep the data, who will be in charge of maintaining it, and how often you will update it. Do a metadata audit: Check the quality of your metadata on different retail websites and make sure they are showing consumers the correct information about your books.

Laying all of that groundwork now will help you stay ahead of the curve when new data requirements come up, and will also help you fix issues that are keeping you from standing out in the crowd.


Titles With Metadata Lead to Higher Sales
  • Titles with all the most basic metadata elements: average sales 75 percent higher than those without.
  • Average sales of fiction titles: 170 percent higher with basic metadata than those without.
  • Titles that include a cover image: sales 51 percent higher than those without.
  • Titles with all three descriptive data elements: sales 72 percent higher than those without.
  • Titles that have keywords assigned: sales 34 percent higher than titles without.

Joshua Tallent is the director of outreach and education at Firebrand Technologies (firebrandtech.com). He serves on the IBPA Board of Directors and the Executive Committee, and leads the Member Benefits Committee. Joshua is an expert in metadata and an acclaimed teacher and guide on digital publishing. You can find him on Twitter @jtallent and @firebrandtech.


For more insight about metadata, check out this IBPA Independent article: Metadata Makeover.

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