Metadata for Books: The Current Landscape

September 19, 2019
Ingram Staff
Metadata for Books: The Current Landscape

By: Jake Handy (@jakehandy) and Margaret Harrison (@NerdInNashville)

(Excerpt from Metadata Essentials)
Whether you’re an author or a publisher, metadata—that is, the data that describes and differentiates your book—should be one of your biggest considerations. It’s of huge importance to your customers because it brings a book to life for the buyer and provides important details on what he or she should expect. According to a survey conducted by The Nielson Company, titles with incomplete or nonspecific metadata result in higher returns and, generally, lower sales. Supplying metadata might seem like an easy problem to tackle, but it’s been incredibly difficult for authors and publishers to know where they should focus their efforts. Spreadsheets and “best practices” documents place a heavy emphasis on what can be sent throughout the supply chain. But what metadata should you send? What’s most important? The fact is that many publishers are wasting time on metadata that may never see the light of day, let alone contribute to sales growth.

It’s never been more important for publishers and authors to prioritize the time, money and effort they spend on metadata. But first, they must understand the current metadata landscape.

The Landscape of Book Metadata

One of the keys to knowing what metadata to send about a product lies in figuring out the best way to transmit all that information from your system directly to the consumer. Since publishers, aggregators, distributors, and retailers ingest and distribute data, and each party has its own way of interpreting the data, it’s easy to see how things can get complicated.

Before the XML metadata standard ONIX was introduced in 2000, publishers would send all their metadata in spreadsheet format. However, since there weren’t (and, to a large extent, still aren’t) metadata formatting standards across the publishing industry, it was very time consuming to reformat individualized data for multiple trading partners who accepted the data in different ways.

While some publishers currently send metadata in a spreadsheet format, each data recipient has its own unique template. However, an ever-growing number of publishers, aggregators, distributors, and retailers are utilizing ONIX to help standardize the transmission of data. While the majority of the industry is rooted in ONIX, the standardization for the metadata content within varies from publisher to publisher, library to library, and so on.

An interesting parallel in terms of standards can be found in the music industry. iTunes, the leading channel for music sales and subscriptions, requires a bare minimum of genre, track title, artist name, and album title. There is movement within certain musical genres, such as Classical, for artists to provide much more information. That being said, each distribution pillar in the music industry has made little effort to truly expand into enhanced metadata where it might be desirable.

Similarly, within the book industry there is a recognized bare minimum by most distribution channels that always includes the basics. Within certain subjects—again, similar to Classical music in the above example—there is a desire to provide more details, such as an emphasis on contributor biographies. On the whole, however, the standards tend to focus on the minimum and let enhanced metadata either fall off completely or come in a sloppy, unorganized manner.

This was fantastic news 10 years ago, since it meant that authors of all walks of life were able to submit their books to stores in no time. In the current crowded market, though, where social media advertising and metadata intelligence are key to maximizing sales, the lack of standardization for elements of enhanced metadata is a liability. 

Why Metadata Matters

The modern consumer wants to be engaged. Giving a reader an accurate preview of the content through your metadata is the key to hooking them to your products. When a reader lands at your book’s page on the Kindle Store or elsewhere, they want to see as much information as possible. This mimics readers walking up and down book store and library rows for hours, scanning the pages of books, seeking out their favorite contributors, eyeing the art, and selecting the book that interests them the most. Offering them more information up front will always lead to more opportunities to hook them.

There are multitudes of real, tangible data points that publishers, librarians, and retailers alike are not utilizing to the best of their ability. From simple elements like product type and title to the deep complexities of contributor data, keywords, and subject codes, every piece of metadata that accompanies your book serves an important role in boosting discoverability and sales.

Metadata Essentials Book

Metadata Essentials: Proven Techniques for Book Marketing and Discovery provides clear and easy-to-implement recommendations so you can focus your efforts on the industry’s most relevant metadata. For more information and to purchase the book, click here.

Ingram's Book Metadata Enhancement Service

Smart Metadata, from Ingram, is a book metadata improvement service that helps you improve your books' discoverability through data-driven analysis and industry expertise.

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Ingram Staff

Ingram Staff

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