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ECPA Wire: Industry Issues

Your Metadata is More Important Than Your Books

Friday, October 1, 2010   (0 Comments)
Posted by: ECPA
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Laura Dawson, Content Chief, Firebrand Technologies

E-Link, October 2010

Laura Dawson

It's becoming a truism that book readers have stopped asking bookstore clerks and librarians about the next good read, and are searching online now. According to a recent eMarketer survey, 61% of purchasers researched & browsed online before purchasing. Only 37% of purchasers did so in physical stores. Data from Bowker's consumer research initiatives backs up this trend – and Nielsen is looking at ways of expanding Bookscan to include that sort of data as well.

And what do consumers see when they are online? Metadata.

Metadata is the stuff that gets your book found – the title, the author, the ISBN, the subject codes, the reviews. Anything that describes the book is metadata. And without a good description, nobody knows who you are.
Metadata is, in other words, a publisher's first SEO strategy. Those are the elements that Google spiders and picks up. Those are the search terms that people type into that search box when they're searching for information. Discovery/review services like NetGalley – as well as all the ecommerce sites – are heavily reliant on metadata not just for listing titles, but also for search algorithms themselves. Those terms, that metadata, is what will bring your book and your customer together.

We're getting to the point where, if you don't have an accurate listing on the web, your book might as well not exist. Whether it's "semantic" search or a more traditional browsing hierarchy, search technologies rest on metadata. Tags, definitions, clarifications ("when we say 'porcelain' we mean fine china, not toilets") are all necessary to guide users to the information they want.

Fundamentally, metadata is marketing. With bar code scanning apps on smartphones, people can do comparisons, find out where to buy or borrow or download. It's the basis for advertising your book. It announces the book to the world: "FIND IT HERE".

If it's accurate, it leads to satisfaction – and a sale. If it's NOT accurate, it leads to frustration, and annoyance, and irritation – not feelings you want your customers to have.

Good metadata originates at home, with publishers. Publishers then send their metadata to distributors and data aggregators, who then provide it to "the big guys" – Google, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Bowker. If your metadata has a reputation for being clean and accurate, "the big guys" will prefer it to that provided by aggregators.

As a publisher, your book information is YOURS. It's not Bowker's, it's not your distributor's. It is every bit as yours as the books themselves. And in many ways it's more important than the books are, simply because if you ignore it, your customers will ignore your books.

Book information isn't just for professionals anymore. It used to be that only librarians or warehouse staff would see your metadata, via inventory files. But now, consumers see it! And they see it everywhere on the web – at online bookstores, in search engines, in online library catalogs, via iPhone apps… EVERYWHERE. And they notice – and grumble – when it's misleading or wrong.

To use your metadata effectively as a marketing tool, it's important to fix it – correct typos, make sure subject codes accurately reflect what the books are about, make sure book descriptions really describe what the books are about. It's important to automate it – because manual keying means mistakes! It's critical to reduce free text fields to a minimal level. And it's important to package it – as an ONIX file, as a text file, however your trading partners can use it.

Most of all…publishers need to use it. Send it out to your trading partners so they know what books you have on offer. Populate your website with it. Generate your catalogs with it. Use it to organize your workflow. If you're using your metadata every single day, its quality will improve. You'll notice when things aren't right and you'll fix them. You'll be the first line of defense.

Laura Dawson is a 25-year veteran of the book industry, specializing in its technology issues. Currently Content Chief at Firebrand Technologies, she has worked at Doubleday, Muze, Barnes &, SirsiDynix, and as an independent consultant whose clients have included the Book Industry Study Group, Ingram Library Services, Audible, McGraw-Hill, Cengage, Chuckwalla, Loyola University Press, Alibris, and R. R. Bowker. She lives in Brooklyn with her two teenage daughters and their hamsters.

Firebrand Technologies

ECPA members can easily manage their metadata at a discounted rate through ECPA Title Management Web, an online solution provided by Firebrand Technologies that allows publishers to manage the data for their title listing in one convenient location. Everything from images, to jacket copy, table of contents, and awards information can be easily stored in this online repository.  At the click of a button you can release product information to over 200 industry partners in the file format (ONIX, XML, etc.) and frequency requested by the partners. In addition, ECPA Title Management Web can be used to easily print tip sheets and title cards for major retailers, saving you money in time and resources.

Any ECPA member publisher who subscribes to this service will receive a discount off of Firebrand Technologies' regular subscription rates. If you are interested in learning more or signing up, please contact Michael Covington or visit


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