Selling Books Online With Clever Metadata

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IM000804.JPGMetadata sells things—things like ebooks. Clever publishers incorporate data at every stage of workflow, creating much of it before a book is even published. Large and small publishers alike can ensure effective book sales, marketing and distribution by efficiently using metadata.

Similarly retailers and libraries, known for their role in book discovery and converting readers to book purchasers, classify titles according to data. Consumers and library patrons have developed an intuitive sense of how books are organized for browsing.

This understanding lets each library visitor and online shopper choose between serendipitous book discovery and a more careful search. With or without realizing it, consumers follow metadata to find and purchase their next book.

To learn more about what publishers and entrepreneurial authors can do to cleverly assign metadata that will lead to efficient book discovery and sales, Digital Book World asked an expert—Renée Register, co-author of The Metadata Handbook: A Publisher’s Guide to Creating and Distributing Metadata for Print and Ebooks.

Renée Register is teaching a series of DBW U online courses about metadata. The first class starts Monday, June 24. Sign up today for Introduction to Metadata for Books: History, Standards, and the Current Landscape.

Deanna Utroske: How do ebook consumers and online book shoppers use metadata to discover and select books?

Renée Register: Most of us use metadata every day, often without realizing we’re using it! Online stores are built on formatted metadata….This is true for refrigerators, shoes, and almost any product you can think of that’s offered for sale online.

In online book shopping (and especially for ebooks when there’s no option to physically browse a bookshelf) metadata is the shopping experience. It’s what we query, view, click on, and read. Metadata is queried to match our searches, organize browse lists of books by genre or subject, age level, author, release date (new or forthcoming), format (paperback, hardcover, digital, audio), and works behind the scenes to present us with titles that are similar to others we’ve browsed or purchased. Rich metadata about books, such as cover images, reviews, awards, excerpts, and author biographies, helps us to evaluate books and decide which books we want.

ISBN, seller inventory numbers, price, and other data elements related to commerce help to create our orders, organize seller inventory, ensure the right book is delivered, bill us, and track our shipments.

DU: Why is a full, historical understanding of metadata useful to ebook industry pros?

RR: There are lots of misconceptions about metadata, and one of the biggest is that it’s a scary, technical thing that should be left to programmers and data scientists. It’s actually at the very heart of bookselling. It’s how we tell people about the books we care about – the books we publish. I like to begin most discussions of metadata with its place in the history of books and reading so it becomes understandable as a continued, vital part of bookselling….

This gets at the question of why we need metadata, and it really is essential to talk about the why as well as the how. Talking about metadata in this context and tracing how standards and practices have evolved as the industry moved into more automated processes also brings home its importance to good business. Some of the standards and practices that may have been mysterious begin to make more sense. Good metadata plays a big role in creating workflow efficiencies and building solid business intelligence.

DU: Metadata’s value is long established in the bookselling industry—it certainly isn’t new to the digital age. Why is book metadata so pertinent today?

RR: I’m not sure that everyone, even industry professionals, understands how valuable and integral it’s been to bookselling over the years. That’s something that the history helps us put in context. But it is especially important in the digital age….

Online bookselling exposed the metadata and moved it to the heart of the book shopping experience. It was a new way to find and discover books and it could supplement physical browsing. The rise of digital content expands the role of metadata. When content is exclusively digital, metadata is the only way access it. The entire experience from discovery to delivery is in the digital realm. Delivering content in digital formats is also opening up new ways to deliver metadata that is actually embedded in the product.

DU: In an upcoming DBW U course, you detail how publishers use metadata to help announce and publicize a book while libraries us it to help organize titles for browsing patrons. Can you summarize that information here?

RR: The ways in which publishers and libraries use metadata are becoming more similar due to the online expectations of readers. Library catalogs are online and library patrons can browse and reserve books from home. Some books can be delivered digitally. Libraries may also use publisher information to publicize selected books on their websites.

Libraries do still use classification systems such as Dewey Decimal and Library of Congress to shelve physical books so that books on the same subject stay together but pay a lot of attention to the way metadata is organized for web browsing too. Bookstores may still use BISAC Subject Headings to arrange books on shelves, but the subjects are also used to organize…an online bookstore.

It’s my hope that libraries and publishers will pursue further collaboration and leverage metadata to work across multiple platforms and uses.

For more information about the series of online courses about metadata that Renée Register is teaching, check out DBW U.


About DeannaUtroske

Deanna Utroske is the Content Producer at Digital Book World and an active member of New York Women in Communications, where she serves on the Integrated Marketing & Communications Committee. Previously, Deanna worked in the editorial office of Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, a publication of the University of Chicago Press.

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