Laura Dawson: Metadata Evangelist
By Marian Schembari, Contributing Editor, Digital Book World
Laura Dawson has been in the publishing business since she was “a little baby intern in 1986,” and even before then, she worked at her local public library.
“I always wanted to be in the book world.”
And now that her love for books and love for technology have collided, she couldn’t be happier.
“That happened in 1995,” Dawson explained, “when I began working with Muze. We licensed Bowker’s Books in Print and began hanging all these cool features on the spine of that metadata. We created an amazing search interface that was never fully implemented, but it taught me an awful lot about how technology works to lead people to books. I then went to BarnesandNoble.com and did similar metadata projects, before landing at a library software developer, where I worked on powering user interfaces for public and academic libraries.”
“I’ve been consulting since 2003. I really love consulting because it brings me in front of a lot of different sorts of problems, so I am never bored and always learning.”
Today, her clients consist of publishers and the service providers who need help talking to them, “mostly technology firms who are very aware that they want to penetrate an insular industry, and they need help navigating that.”
But as we all know, the publishing industry is rapidly changing, and someone can have a quarter century of experience and still be completely out of the loop. Not Dawson, though. She recognizes those changes — both the obvious, like the increasing integration of technology in the publishing process, and the less obvious, like fear.
“Publishing didn’t used to be afraid,” said Dawson.
“They told everyone what to read (what they were going to publish), and people consumed it the way they were told to (via book reviews, ads). Now, publishing has gone from a business-to-business operation (publisher-to-distributor-to-bookstore-to-consumer) to a business-to-consumer operation, and so very many publishers have no idea why they are suddenly being portrayed as out of touch, clueless, etc. They’re doing what they’ve always done!”
“But the market has shifted; consumers now have greater power than they ever did, and much more book finding is happening on the web. Publishers have been, in my experience, unnerved by that. I spend a lot of my time explaining things to publishers that I, as a consumer, take for granted. So that requires a lot of patience and empathy. And periodic forays into hobbies which have nothing whatever to do with publishing.”
Among the things she hates are “jargon, snobbery, and the assumption that social media is going to ‘save publishing’,” and she sees the biggest challenge being “the myth busting and political wrangling. The only thing that’s going to save publishing is getting books (in whatever format) to readers (in the format they want).”
Not all these changes are bad though, and for many, fear isn’t necessarily the most appropriate response. Dawson loves the opportunity for innovation (there’s that word again); she loves the new tools that are out there that “help bring books to market more effectively. I’m loving the recognition that identifiers and metadata are important marketing tools – the fact that all this wonky stuff I’ve been so passionate about is finally seeing the light of day!”
Anyone in publishing who you really admire? Who’s creativity you want to emulate?
But I also have so much respect for those in production and IT; the folks who are not, by and large, considered creative by their companies. Anyone who can turn out a good ONIX feed, or design a functional eBook conversion process, or package books together in a database and license it — these are the people I have the most admiration for. They are grappling with data and structure issues every day, and are on the front lines of the stuff that consultants like me pontificate about. I rely on them to tell me when I’m full of it.
How are you staying up-to-date with industry news? How do you stay on the ball?
Publishers Lunch, of course. And Twitter; I am getting most of my industry news from Twitter these days. @jafurtado is a one-man news bureau. There are also some blogs I follow closely: Brian O’Leary’s, Jane Litte’s and Kassia Krozier’s. And I belong to a listserv that is a never-ending source of news and opinion – very valuable.
Future of publishing – half full or half empty?
The future of publishing is packed full! No halvsies.
Laura Dawson is a 20+ year veteran of the book industry, specializing in its technology issues. She has worked at Doubleday, Muze, Barnes & Noble.com, SirsiDynix, and as an independent consultant whose clients have included R. R. Bowker, Chuckwalla, McGraw-Hill, the Book Industry Study Group, Ingram Library Services, Audible, IBS/Bookmaster North America, Harvard University Press, Yale University Press, Lexis-Nexis, Cosimo Books, and Dial-A-Book.
Marian Schembari digs social media and books. Usually at the same time.