Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.
This month, Digital Book World is focusing on publishing processes. This is a topic that is near and dear to my heart, not only because I work for a company that helps publishers modernize their processes, but because much of my career has been dedicated to ensuring quality and efficiency in publishing processes.
Have you ever had a good homebrew beer? I have a neighbor who is into home brewing, and every Saturday he spends at least a few hours (actually, most of the day) puttering around in the garage, working on the system, starting a new batch, and often working hard to finish off batches from previous weeks.
Homebrew beer can be pretty good stuff if it is done right, but the process of creating it is not normally very efficient. I can’t imagine my neighbor suddenly opening a brewery and putting his best batches up for sale. Also, he sometimes messes up a batch, with some pretty awful results that are not usable for anything more than feeding the garden.
In publishing, homebrew metadata management has some similar limitations. These systems commonly come in one of a few flavors:
1. Intricate Excel spreadsheets that are passed back and forth between people and departments, adding new information and praying that the file does not become corrupted.
2. Private Excel spreadsheets that are never shared between co-workers, but that need to be updated individually and are likely to have outdated, inconsistent and incorrect data.
3. FileMaker or Access databases that are limited in functionality and may be hard to update and expand as the industry changes.
In most cases, these kinds of homebrew metadata systems spring up because a long time ago one person created a solution that worked for him, then passed it along to other co-workers as needed. However, what happens when that person retires or moves on? Or what happens when the number of titles in the spreadsheet reaches into the hundreds or thousands and becomes unwieldy?
Additionally, these homebrew systems also often leave ONIX file creation—a major element of the publishing process—in the doldrums of manual creation. There are hundreds of retailers and other vendors that need to receive metadata from publishers. These vendors sometimes follow common industry standards, but they often also have their own tweaks and special requirements, even some that contradict another vendor’s. If you have a team member spending much or all of her time just making sure that the ONIX files you send out to vendors are correct, then your process is ripe for an efficiency boost.
In the fast-moving world of digital distribution and Internet sales, metadata is getting more and more complex and feature-rich. The industry just saw a major update of the ONIX format from 2.1 to 3.0, and is struggling to get caught up to this more advanced, more powerful format. Every year, BISG comes out with an updated version of the BISAC subject codes, and this year it includes a complete re-working of the system to create a whole section of Young Adult categories. These kinds of changes often leave publishers struggling to keep up, and require them to stop focusing on what they are really here to do: create books.
Another major limitation of these homebrew systems is their inability to integrate with business intelligence systems, accounting systems, royalty tracking systems and more. They also don’t have the ability to track schedules, contracts, project P&Ls and other key information that book publishers need to know when making decisions, reacting to sales numbers and doing the business of getting books from the mind of the author into the hands of readers.
The good news is that publishers are not alone in this quest for efficiency. Title metadata management systems abound, with processes for tracking book information, providing information access to all team members without sharing files around on the local network or a flash drive, integrating with other systems, and distributing ONIX into all the necessary channels in their own flavors at the click of a button. Yes, I work for one of those companies, but the purpose of this article is not to tout our product. It is to show you that:
1. the homebrew process you use right now is not necessary, and
2. there are amazing people out there just waiting to help you manage your metadata better and more efficiently.
To be more efficient and enjoyed by more people, homebrew beer needs to be created in much bigger casks with high-tech equipment to monitor and control the brewing process. Your metadata needs the same thing, and you don’t have to build it all yourself.
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