This month, as we continue our Publishing House Tour, we are diving into all things metadata. As we discussed way back in November of last year, metadata is a series of details about a book that is provided to book retailers and other channels to drive book sales. Any information a consumer uses to find a book is metadata, including: title, publication date, category, and ISBN. The more metadata attached to a book, the better, since metadata enhances searchability. The more details you can provide, the easier it is for the consumer to find your book, especially when those details are specific.
Metadata is essentially the backbone of modern-day book sales. However, while Metadata is frequently in close collaboration with Sales, they are their own entity within the publishing infrastructure. Most major publishers have entire departments of Metadata people who deal with the various components and applications of that data. Small and midsize publishers will generally have 1-2 people on their Metadata team that are typically folded into another department depending on the size and structure of the organization. However, regardless of whether Metadata is its own department or is grouped into another department, all Metadata professionals work toward the same goal, which is to ensure that the data tied to their books is accurate and current.
So where does Metadata fit into the publishing lifecycle of a book? This question is harder to answer. Like Sales, members of the Metadata team are involved with a book from pre-publication to publication and beyond. Typically, Metadata first gets involved at the launch stage, which is when editors first present their forthcoming titles to their colleagues in the Sales and Marketing team. It is at launch that titles are assigned to a publication season. This first glimpse helps to give Metadata an idea of how many books they may be working with on the list. However, Metadata generally will not start working on a forthcoming list until sales conference.
Sales conference is the meeting led by Sales and Marketing where the official list for a given season is announced. During the planning process of this meeting, the Metadata team begins to lay the groundwork for all of the upcoming titles. Using their notes from launch, in the time leading up to sales conference, the Metadata team is actively working on categories and keywords for the new list. Getting categories right is key for online discoverability.
Post sales conference is when things truly kick into gear for Metadata. The largest and most time consuming task is for Metadata to upload the title information for the entire list into their data management system, which will be used by their fulfillment centers to eventually fill orders. While this task is a huge undertaking, it is incredibly important to upload the title information as soon as possible post sales conference so that members of the Sales staff can immediately begin taking orders from their customers. Ensuring the seasonal lists are entered into the data management system in a timely manner is one way in which the Sales department relies on Metadata.
Depending on the publisher, this data management system may also house their ONIX feed. According to the Book Industry Study Group, “ONIX is an acronym for ONline Information EXchange. ONIX for Books refers to a standard format that publishers can use to distribute electronic information about their books to wholesale, e-tail and retail booksellers, other publishers, and anyone else involved in the sale of books. ONIX enables book information to be communicated between different organizations even if they have different technical infrastructures and business needs. It isn’t a database, but provides a standard XML template for organizing data storage.”
The Metadata team will work on completing the information for the ONIX feed either pre or post sales conference, depending on the size of the publisher and the list. While ONIX feeds are editable, any changes you make take up to one week to reflect on any retail sites. This is why it is crucial for Metadata to check and double check all copy and title information before adding it to the ONIX feed.
Once a book has been published, Metadata continues to be involved in shaping that book’s data. Not only will they update copy to include any awards for the book or its author, they will also work on ensuring that copy stays accurate and current. For instance, if the original copy at the time of release said, “in this author’s latest…” Metadata who need to go in and make an adjustment when the author publishes again. Furthermore, because having a strong backlist is so important and the goal is to have books continue to sell long after its initial publication, it is vital that books remain discoverable. Metadata works to ensure that their books, regardless of if they were published in 1945, 1992, or 2016 remain discoverable. Therefore, the Metadata team routinely refreshes keywords and other data that can be used to keep books relevant.
Metadata may not be the most exciting or glamorous job in publishing, but it is an essential one. And it continues to grow in importance each day as our society grows more and more digital. Now with the pandemic looming large and most of us homebound, it’s never been more necessary to push books digitally, whether borrowing or purchasing an ebook or purchasing a print book online, and those who have the best Metadata teams are sure to feel the benefit.