By Hannah Johnson
What if you could tag your books with regional codes so that booksellers know when a local author’s book is coming out? What if online book retailers could display media mentions, excerpts, and external links for the books they sell? What if a simple search on Facebook for an author could return the dates of the author’s next reading tour, the prizes the author had won, and the titles of the author’s previous books?
All of these scenarios sound like big projects for a digital marketing team, but actually it’s all about metadata — enhanced metadata to be exact. At the most basic level, metadata describes a book by basic descriptors, such as ISBN number, title, author name, publisher and publication date. Core metadata also includes information such as price, page count, format, language and rights information. The Book Industry Study Group identifies 31 data points that can be considered core metadata in its Metadata Best Practices guide.
But what we are talking about here is enhanced metadata — author bios, excerpts, media reviews, etc. — the kind of information that might influence someone’s decision to buy the book, or help a bookseller recommend the book. At Digital Book World in New York City yesterday, a panel of metadata experts spoke about the great things publishers can do with enhanced metadata. This was one of the strongest panels at the conference because it provided actionable steps for publishers as well as an overview of the future of metadata.
Including even simple pieces of information like author bios, jacket copy and media reviews can make a big difference to sales because this information gets delivered along with the ISBN and title to distributors, bookstores, and beyond. Noah Genner (President and CEO of BookNet Canada) said that regional information is both easy to include and very beneficial. For example, if Amazon knows that your author is from a particular place, Amazon can recommend your book to readers who have bought books about that region before.
Genner recommended that all publishers begin including the following enhanced metadata points: country of author, regional code, links to external sites, table of contents, jacket copy and/or blurbs, excerpts, reviews, prizes and both national and local media mentions.
Some of this information can already be included in ONIX, and now the release of ONIX 3.0 will make it easier for publishers to add enhanced metadata. ONIX 3.0 is, according to Fran Toolan (CEO, Firebrand Technologies), a response to the shifting publishing market created by digital content and digital distribution. It also includes a way for publishers to link print and e-book ONIX entries, alerting data users to the presence of both formats.
Not all retailers use the enhanced fields in ONIX, but some do and more will begin to as publishers populate these fields with valuable information. (For more information about using enhanced metadata in ONIX, download BookNet Canada’s guide, ONIX for Marketing.)
The panel members also pointed out that publishers used to know exactly who was using their metadata, but that is no longer the case. Digital distribution and online information means that more people than you think can see and use a publisher’s metadata.
Amazon and Google have APIs, said Genner, that give web and app developers access to publisher metadata. So the better your metadata is, the better chances your books have of being discovered and bought.
Adoption of enhanced metadata is beginning, but only slowly, said Toolan. Mainly, this is because it requires changes not only in publishers’ workflow, but also for distributors, booksellers and anyone involved in getting books to customers. However, Peter Collingridge (Co-Founder, Enhanced Editions) said that putting this enhanced metadata on a publisher’s own website can be very powerful. It creates keyword-rich content, which search engines and social networks like Facebook love to find. With hundreds of thousands of new titles published every year in countries across the globe, helping readers discover your books is the first step to selling your books.
So even though metadata has a less-than-cool reputation (think solitary librarians checking ISBN numbers in their card catalogues), digitization is making it very cool and very critical for discoverability, marketing and sales.