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Metadata Musts

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by Renée Register and Thad McIlroy

Today’s independent publishers have two big reasons for getting metadata right and distributing it early in the publishing cycle. For one thing, full and accurate metadata is essential for e-commerce; without it, a book is much less likely to be found, to create a buzz, and to sell. For another, good metadata helps small and independent publishers compete with larger publishers.

Providing full metadata, including good categorization and book description, makes it more likely that independent books will be retrieved along with books from the biggest houses. Including additional evaluative metadata helps readers make the decision to choose a book from among the others available.

Information that makes a book stand out includes:

  • author biographies, interviews, and links to author or book Websites
  • advance reviews or blurbs
  • table of contents
  • excerpts

Because metadata is used in almost every aspect of publishing, each publisher should create and maintain one comprehensive database that contains all data needed for:

  • acquisition
  • rights
  • editorial
  • production
  • marketing
  • distribution
  • merchandising
  • search
  • discovery
  • selection
  • ordering
  • sales transactions
  • sales tracking
  • business intelligence

Take time to determine the data needed to meet these business needs. Explore content management systems and other tools that can help publishers with capturing, storing, and maintaining data. Make sure that any system you select or build can export the data in a form that trading partners and resellers can use. When Excel or other desktop tools are the only option, vendors can help transform existing data into ONIX data so that it can be easily distributed. See below for a list that includes some content and data management vendors.

The data that you amass and maintain must work for all users—staff, sales channels, trading partners, and readers. And it must cover three basic areas: content description, item description, and commerce needs.

Metadata for book content description.

Good description is at the heart of successful online selling for any product. Whether you’re selling shoes, refrigerators, or books, the metadata describing the product stands in for the physical item and must, at the very least, accurately express the nature and qualities of what is being sold.

The elements below are the basic building blocks for describing the content of a book. They refer to the work itself (the content of the book) and will apply to any version of the book that has the same content. Some elements, such as those pertaining to series and edition, are obviously essential only when applicable.

  • title (and subtitle if applicable)
  • author/contributor(s)
  • publisher (and imprint if applicable)
  • edition information (if applicable)
  • series (if applicable)
  • language of content
  • audience
  • age level for juvenile titles
  • descriptive summary
  • BISAC/BIC subjects

Metadata for product description.

Metadata must also communicate certain things about the nature of the particular product type, or version, of content. A book can have the same title, author, edition, description, language, and subjects in more than one format, but the fact that it’s in audio, digital, hardcover, or paperback matters to the reader, the seller, and the publisher.

Accordingly, publishers must have specific product information (as well as specific content information) to effectively track marketing campaigns and sales associated with particular formats. For example, if a book enjoys strong sales in print but weak sales in the audio version, that has implications for the publisher’s marketing strategy, analysis of consumer behavior, and business intelligence regarding the effectiveness of various types of content in available formats.

Product information is crucial for resellers as well. For example, wholesalers use information about weight, dimensions, and number of pieces to plan inventory space and anticipate shipping charges for physical items.

The basic product description elements are:

  • product form (format/binding/packaging)
  • software/hardware requirements (if applicable)
  • extent (page count/file size)
  • weight and dimensions (if applicable)
  • number of pieces (if applicable)
  • DRM/usage constraints (if applicable)
  • digital image

Metadata for commerce.

Of course consumers care about price, but publishers and resellers need many additional metadata elements connected to buying and selling. Those listed below drive how, when, at what price, and, in the case of territorial rights, even whether books are bought and sold.

Although many of these elements aren’t visible to the consumer, they matter for business decisions behind the scenes.

  • ISBN (a unique identifier is important for all aspects of selling)
  • price(s)
  • publication date
  • publisher’s proprietary discount
  • publisher status code
  • product availability code
  • territorial rights
  • strict-on-sale date
  • return code (if applicable)

Outsourcing Options

Small and independent publishers often have management systems that rely on Excel, internal databases, and other tools that aren’t fully integrated and require lots of manual intervention. This can make it difficult to create the type of streamlined and efficient metadata processes that ensure timely distribution of consistent quality metadata to sales outlets.

Publishers that release only one or two titles a year, don’t maintain a significant backlist, and work with only a few trading partners may do well enough by using the online metadata forms provided by Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other online sellers on a title-by-title basis. But it’s still important to understand the metadata elements these suppliers want and to enter data fully, accurately, and in keeping with best practices for product description.

Resellers request particular data elements because they contribute to better discovery and more sales—the desired result for the publisher as well as for them.

To help small and midsize publishers handle the challenges of formatting and distributing metadata, several companies now offer a variety of products and services. Using one of these companies to manage your metadata can be a good option, saving staff time and ensuring consistent metadata distribution.

This list of business, content, and metadata management vendors is not comprehensive. Without endorsing any of them, we offer brief descriptions here.

Avatar (avatar-software.com)

AVATAR is a fully integrated, module-based business management system, specifically designed to meet the evolving needs of publishers and distributors. It has been developed and is supported by Littlejohn, one of the United Kingdom’s top 30 firms of chartered accountants, based in London. In addition to its core financial management ledgers, AVATAR modules include Title Management, Rights and Royalties, and Business Intelligence. The AVATAR system is ONIX compliant.

Cyberwolf (cyberwolf.com)

ACUMEN Book™ is an integrated business management system built on a client-server architecture. It is suitable for sites with up to 100 concurrent users. The Product Marketing component allows information export in a customizable format for transmission to trading partners and publisher Web sites.

Firebrand Technologies (firebrandtech.com)

Firebrand offers:

  • title management solutions that facilitate tracking titles from preacquisition through postproduction
  • Eloquence metadata solutions that comprise ONIX implementation and metadata distribution services
  • e-commerce solutions that integrate predeveloped Website architecture with Firebrand’s title management solutions

IBS BookMaster (ibs.net/products/ibs-media/bookmaster)

BookMaster is a publishing-specific integrated enterprise management business software solution for print and digital publishers and book distributors. It comprises core distribution, financial, and supply chain management (SCM) systems with highly functional integration to Web-based financial transaction and business management processes.

Klopotek (klopotek.de)

Klopotek’s Product Planning and Management (PPM) products include:

  • Title Management and Product Marketing, facilitating ONIX creation and distribution to multiple trading partners
  • Editorial and Production, which provides tools for management of title planning and production activities and workflows
  • Contracts, Rights, and Royalties, which provides tools for contract, royalty, and rights management

NetRead (netread.com)

NetRead’s Jacketcaster offers conversion to ONIX for Books, and metadata distribution services with file formatting per trading partner specifications.

ONIXEDIT (onixedit.com)

ONIXEDIT title management software is based on the ONIX standard. Functionality includes the ability to read and write ONIX, export and transmit ONIX, and validate and save files in specific formats.

Publishing Technology (publishingtechnology.com)

Publishing Technology’s Advance™ Product Manager is designed to manage product information, production processes and schedules, and digital assets. It allows import, export, and distribution of data in various formats, including ONIX.

Scott Moore Ltd. (scottmoore.co.uk)

Scott Moore’s Book Manager incorporates a range of business functions including electronic data exchange. Book Manager has a module that can import, export, and manage ONIX for Books data.

Stison Publishing Solutions (stison.com)

Stison’s Title Manager is a Web-based bibliographic data storage, management, and distribution system that is ONIX compliant. Its Production Manager is a production scheduling, reporting, and workflow management system. Other Stison modules include Royalty Manager, Web Manager, and E-book Manager.

Virtusales (virtusales.com)

Virtusales’s Biblio3 is an integrated, modular publishing management system. Functionality includes production management, rights and royalties management, and bibliographic and editorial data management. Data management components include centralized storage, XML output for catalog creation, and ONIX Wizard and feed generator.

Its BiblioDAM is a digital asset management system. When integrated with Biblio3, metadata from Biblio3 automatically feeds into the BiblioDAM system. BiblioLIVE is an online version of Biblio tools that includes backups and disaster recovery.

Whether or not you decide to work with a vendor to manage your metadata effectively, it’s vital to keep one thing firmly in mind. Metadata about your books is only as good as the information you create, provide, and update as necessary. No matter how good a vendor may be, your business process and organization determine whether metadata about your books is as good as it has to be to help those books sell.

More Help with Metadata

Detailed information about metadata and how to manage it is available via ibpa-online.org. See especially “Desperately Seeking Good Data,” Parts 1, 2, and 3; “The Link Between Metadata and Sales”; and “E-Book Metadata Best Practices.”

Renée Register’s company (datacurate.com) focuses on supporting publishers in the development of 21st century data policies, practices, and systems designed to connect readers to content. Thad McIlroy’s consultancy (The Future of Publishing) is devoted to helping publishers at the intersection of production, markets, and technology.

This article is derived from their new book The Metadata Handbook: A Book Publisher’s Guide to Creating and Distributing Metadata for Print and Ebooks.

To learn more: reneeregister@datacurate.com; thad@thefutureofpublishing.com; themetadatahandbook.com


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