By John W. Warren
Successful publishers realize that an understanding of the entire metadata ecosystem will help maximize a title’s visibility, popularity, and sale-ability. Metadata is the lifeblood of publishing in the digital age and the key to discovery. But what improvements maximize their return on investment and provide the best potential to improve your sales? My recent article on the history, philosophy, practice, and future of metadata considers several improvements to publisher metadata. We’ll focus here on three: process improvement, the use keywords, and crowdsourcing metadata.
Metadata can be understood as many things and has become an increasingly strategic function of the publishing enterprise, but it’s helpful to consider it as a process of information flow. Metadata management involves events, roles, and handoffs that can benefit from process improvement. Map your entire metadata process. Examine details such as who inputs information about your titles, at what steps, what data “buckets” is it stored in, who verifies its accuracy, who alters it, when and how is it transmitted to trading partners, and so on. Focus your efforts on improving the quality and accuracy of your metadata, the number of elements that you capture and the quantity of accounts to which you feed data, and on ways to reduce unnecessary steps that create delays or trigger increased labor costs.
Understand that the effort never ends—there is always something to improve, enhance, or clean up—so start with the proverbial “low hanging fruit,” implementing relatively easy process improvements, then move toward bigger cross-organizational projects such as reducing the number of databases in which you store your metadata.
A relatively easy improvement is the use of keywords. Frequently employed in website search engine optimization (SEO), keywords have sometimes been overlooked in publisher metadata. This is understandable because some industry trading partners do not use keywords or do not clearly communicate their usage.
Use keywords or phrases within your ONIX metadata that your target audience will be likely use during search, such as specific characters, places, or series names (i.e. Game of Thrones, Targaryen) that may not appear elsewhere in the book’s title, subtitle, and author fields. Choosing keywords involves art and science—use terms that are unique and relevant; be specific but not so specific that your target audience will be unlikely to search using the term. Some publishers or associations will prefer the use of a controlled taxonomy, while others will create keywords extemporaneously for each title. Each method has its advantages and limitations.
Keywords or tags can even be crowd-sourced. LibraryThing allows users to tag book metadata while websites like Metadata Games turn the participatory process into a diversion. This approach to metadata can be useful to organizations, such as library publishers or historical associations that are digitizing large amounts of texts and other materials but lack staff to generate metadata for each item. A publisher seeking to enhance the metadata of a vast digitized backlist could try this tactic, or one needing a significant number of learning resources to be tagged in order to improve discovery and promote usage.
Metadata is evolving, becoming ever more interconnected. Metadata is both highly technical and eminently creative. A paradox of metadata is that publishers must work to perfect their titles’ metadata while unleashing it into the world, inviting loss of control and imperfection. Metadata improvements propel discovery and sales of books and other content, while increasingly enabling linkages between a broad network of learning objects and resources.
John W. Warren is Head of Mason Publishing Group & George Mason University Press and adjunct professor in George Washington University’s master of professional studies in publishing program. He is the author of several articles about publishing, including the recent “Zen and the Art of Metadata Maintenance” in the Journal of Electronic Publishing.