6 thoughts on “Five Questions Publishing Leaders Need to Ask About Metadata

  1. Thad McIlroy

    Good article on metadata. (I’m glad you were able to find quotes with my name on them 🙂 )

    You talk about getting a title listed under “Cyberpunk that features AI.”

    I know this is just an example for illustration, but even on the Kindle store, with its multiplicity of non-BISAC codes, I find that my “search “Cyberpunk that features AI” did not match any products.”

    I’m becoming quite jaded toward BISAC for precisely this reason. BISAC is more likely to get you into a category with 111,638 titles than it is to get you in a category that actually makes a difference to your sales.

    I’m not suggesting to any publisher that they not make their best effort with BISAC. It can’t hurt.

    But the widely-held belief in the industry that BISAC really makes a difference toward discoverability I don’t think would be borne out with rigorous testing.

    1. Kelly Peterson

      That’s a thoughtful response, and it inspired some search on my part. (Not simply because I loved the Oscar winning Ex Machina, either – but I could use a Cyberpunk AI novel about now!)

      You are 100% right that BISAC is more likely (all on its own) to get you into a slightly larger category; but BISACs don’t live in isolation. With retailers, the combination of BISAC and keywords are a powerful tool. I thought I’d try to reproduce your search, and here’s what I see on Amazon. In Cyberpunk ( a BISAC designation,) I’ve gone from 267,520 Scifi/Fantasy titles to 3,138, which is a vast improvement. That’s the power of BISAC. The addition of a keyword “AI,” though, brings me down to 334 titles. The BISAC does part of the job, and the keywords can do the rest, but the BISAC is the basic building block.

      BISACs are the engine of search, and keywords are simply power steering. They don’t do much in isolation; they need something to make them useful, and that is the BISAC.

    2. Anne Kubek

      Thanks Thad – and thanks for your leadership in all things metadata!

      As Kelly notes, we encourage our clients to leverage a variety of means to improve their title discoverability and look forward to more innovations within the industry to further help readers connect with books they are interested in reading. BISACs and keywords are not the sole solution, but they are part of the tool kit.

      Thanks for reading!

  2. Michael W. Perry

    The cynic in me would ask one additional question: \Is all this talk about metadata merely make-work for experts who provide those services to publishers?

    I ask because every ebook retailer where I supply books requires that data, including two or three BISAC numbers, to be hand-entered as part of the file upload. Yes, if you’re uploading hundreds of books in your backlist, metadata may save time and money. But if you simply adding a new book to the Kindle store or the iBookstore, it matters not. That hand-entered data will rule.

    I bring that up because the fuss over metadata and standards distracts from what digital publishing really needs, which is a way to create ebooks that are pleasant to read. Page after page of endless lines of text, poorly formatted and devoid of variety, won’t persuade readers go digital. Nor will it lead them to recommend a particular book to a friend—the best sales tool.

  3. Peter A Turner

    I can’t help but wonder how many publishers large and small are actually devoting resources to correcting errors and enhancing metadata in their backlist. We’re a small eCommerce start up. Our team has been hip-deep in the metadata records provided by one of the major book distributors. The quantity and and diversity of errors in this data is remarkable, including missing subtitles (often a field that contains priority keywords for SEO), incorrectly attributed authors, wrong author bios, missing book descriptions, wrong book covers or no cover at all, and on and on. Also, data that would assist in discoverability and sales conversions are often absent though available elsewhere online (book excerpts, author interviews, reviews).

    While publishers are doing a better job correcting and enhancing the delta updates of metadata to the major online retailers, even there one finds a surprisingly large number of errors. You’d think publishers would want this data to be in good shape for SEO as well as assisting the consumer in making purchase decisions.

    My guess is there are two reasons for the generally poor quality of book metadata: lack of resources and lack of any reason to devote resources. The second reason requires some explanation. Consumer surveys have consistently shown that major online retailers are not where consumers tend to first discover the books they purchase. That decision has been made elsewhere, online or off. So the quality of the metadata for discovery is not relevant. The consumer knows the author or the title, searches for it on Google or Amazon, done.

    Until publishers have a good commercial reason to create, maintain, and continually enhance quality book metadata the resources won’t be allocated. Many publishers are more actively driving would-be consumers to their own website. If these efforts are successful, that might be a motivation to enhance their own data to improve discoverability of their titles and raise the level of their sales conversions (on site or via click-throughs to 3rd party retailers).

    This leads to two additional concerns. If the conversion and click-through rates aren’t compelling, publishers won’t devote resources to metadata. I suspect that will be the case because consumers generally have little interest in frequenting publishers eCommerce sites–why would they? It also raises the issue of a level playing field for access to quality metadata. Take a few moments to compare the data of several titles on Amazon vs. Powells.com and you’ll see what I mean.

    Publishers go to great length supporting bricks-and-mortar retailers and libraries. If they want an equality vibrant and diverse eCommerce landscape online they had better do a better job of making quality metadata available for all online retailers and discovery platforms. Brick-and-mortar indie booksellers have staked a claim and attracted and retained consumers, online booksellers have a chance to do the same–but we need easy access to quality book metadata.



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