Nearly 100% of Publishers Have Seen E-Booksellers Get Their Metadata Wrong
By Jeremy Greenfield, Editorial Director, Digital Book World, @JDGsaid
Imagine if when a book hit Barnes & Noble store shelves it had a different cover than when the proof left the publisher.
That’s what nearly all publishers are experiencing with their e-books, but in a digital way.
According to an upcoming study from the Book Industry Study Group set to come out in a month, 95% of publishers have had the experience of creating their e-books with one set of metadata and seeing an altered set of metadata at the point of sale, online booksellers like Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Apple*.
Initial findings from the study, presented at the BISG Making Information Pay 2012 conference in New York today, suggest that many publishers have little control over their e-book metadata and little knowledge of when and where it gets processed and changed.
Metadata is a buzzword in digital publishing today. Publishers know they need to do it right, but there seems to be a poor industry-wide understanding of what exactly it is.
Think of it as the digital version of everything you would find on a physical book’s book jacket: author; title; ISBN number; blurbs from luminaries praising the book; the book cover; a summary of the content and description of the book; an author’s biography; and so on.
Why it’s so important for e-books is that when a consumer lands on a book’s page at an online book retailer, the metadata is what tells them what the book is about, who it’s by and generally indicates whether they should buy it – just like a book jacket.
(To be sure, there is some metadata that is not completely analogous to what is on a book jacket or on the inside pages of a book, but that stuff is less important by and large than spelling the author’s name right.)
Many publishers, relatively new to e-books, aren’t keeping tabs on such information. Almost half of publishers use an automated system to check that metadata is appearing correctly on online booksellers’ sites; a little over a third check manually and about a fifth don’t check at all, according to the study.
For those publishers that are aware that their metadata has been altered, about half don’t know where in the e-book supply chain the data was altered – at the publisher, the e-book converter, the distributor or the e-bookseller. That’s a big problem for publishers.
“When something is wrong at retail, it can be hard to fix because it isn’t clear where the change took place,” said Brian O’Leary of digital publishing consultancy Magellan Media, who is authoring the study and made the presentation today. “If you don’t fix it at the source, it keeps coming back.”
As part of the upcoming study, BISG and O’Leary will make recommendations for how the industry should treat metadata. One clear recommendation: “There has to be a better discussion of how metadata is edited; it can’t be a black box,” said O’Leary.
The BISG study was conducted by Magellan Media between February and April among a cross-section of just over 100 publishers, wholesalers, service-providers, retailers and manufacturers. About of a quarter of the responses were gathered by phone and the rest online.
Write to Jeremy Greenfield
Woman in bookstore photo via Shutterstock
* Editor’s note: This sentence has been edited slightly to reflect a more accurate portrayal of the story per Brian O’Leary’s comment below.