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Putting Metadata on the Map

Updated: Jun 7, 2023

In a world that is acutely aware of the increasing importance and scale of online sales and promotion, it seems strange to me that there are still people within the publishing industry who are less than familiar with the correlation between good quality metadata and the discoverability and subsequent improved sales of a book. Given the availability of documentation on this topic Nielsen Book’s The Importance of Metadata for Discoverability and Sales being a great example clearly there is more to be done to showcase and spread the word about the significance of “accurate, complete and descriptive” metadata within our sector; and help to shake off the insinuation that metadata should only be considered by those with the technical knowhow to compile it.

“...books with accurate, complete and descriptive metadata sell more copies on average than books with less complete metadata.” Nielsen Book’s The Importance of Metadata for Discoverability and Sales

This is why Virtusales chooses to champion metadata: playing an active role in explaining the merits of quality metadata within the book industry wherever and whenever possible; supporting the very latest versions of industry standards as soon as our customers require them; and immersing ourselves in industry committees and groups worldwide that help to shape the metadata landscape and drive developments for the future.

We do this to ensure that BiblioSuite publishing software continues to provide metadata solutions to our customers that are on the cutting-edge of technology; and this is just one of the reasons why, in 2022 (and again in 2023), we were so delighted to become the first-ever sponsor of the IPG’s Independent Publishing Award for Metadata in the UK giving metadata the publicity and attention it vehemently deserves.

Throughout this blog, we will cast an eye on book industry metadata with a view to answering why we, as an industry, don’t speak openly about metadata; illustrating how modern publishing systems and their tools can help publishers to better their product management workflows; and finally, providing some top tips for getting your metadata in order (and keeping it that way long into the future).

Why We Don’t Talk about Metadata

In the past, I’ve heard industry leaders describe metadata as the lifeblood of publishing, and its importance cannot be overstated to this end. However, much like an ailment of the body, we only ever begin really speaking about metadata when our feeds are not working as they once did or when a particular field isn’t being disseminated, received or used in the way we’d like it to.

There’s a (unfounded) fear in the industry that, by speaking frankly about metadata, you may unwittingly pass on advantages to competitors and this stifles many conversations in their tracks. The silence that ensues not only impacts our industry and its collective sales figures detrimentally, it also puts our industry on the backfoot forcing many publishers to act reactively, rather than proactively; compacting the issue being experienced, increasing its longevity, and forcing publishers to each separately solve a problem that has likely been solved by others many times over.

Why don’t we just share our knowledge, trials and tribulations for the better of the supply chain, to better end-consumer’s experiences, and ultimately better our sales figures?

BiblioSuite enables publishers to implement tried-and-tested, digital workflows that have been developed in collaboration with world-leading publishers, to streamline their processes and increase their output without increasing their number of employees. It enables content-led publishing models, helping publishers to fully utilize their IP and maximize their income regardless of the publishing formats chosen. As such, Biblio users are free to focus on growing their business in the sound mind that all their data, assets and essential documentation from editorial right the way through to rights and royalties are being recorded and stored in a way which will better the performance of the business, and will increase effective communications (both internally and externally, with staff, business partners, authors and agents alike).

In addition, Virtusales actively encourages its client publishers to openly discuss and share their insights, tips and experiences with one another through our customer-exclusive events helping the Biblio community to learn from one another, reducing if not eliminating duplication of efforts; giving smaller publishers the ability to learn from industry-leaders; and allowing larger publishers to learn from the innovations of smaller publishers which have the ability to adapt more readily to industry trends. After all, who wouldn’t want to learn from the likes of Penguin Random House, Macmillan Publishers, Oxford University Press, Harvard University Press, Princeton University Press, Usborne Publishing, Nosy Crow and so on?

Tools for Metadata Success

In April 2022, Kogan Page was awarded the IPG’s first-ever Independent Publishing Award for Metadata, for its dedication to supplying top quality metadata (using BiblioSuite), and its adoption of ONIX 3.0 for the provision of enhanced metadata for accessible products which helps to ensure that the visually impaired and those with learning disabilities are able to find useful information about the accessibility of a product, such as whether an eBook can be read as audio, the availability of braille and/or large print editions, the font used within a product, and so on.

In addition to this award, our customers scooped up a further five awards including the IPG’s UK Education Publisher of the Year (Bloomsbury); the International Award (Magic Cat Publishing, owing to the considerable number of co-editions published since the publisher’s inception); the Marketing Award (which Bloomsbury and Usborne Publishing won jointly); the Diversity and Inclusivity Award (won by Bloomsbury's Alison Morrison) and the Audio Award (Nosy Crow) illustrating how BiblioSuite excels across the board, enabling our customers to flourish by managing and synchronizing all their data and products (from books, eBooks and audiobooks to journals, packs and merchandise) in a single system; increase access to, and visibility of, their data companywide, using Biblio as a single source of truth; and dramatically reducing, if not eliminating, data re-entry.

In his acceptance speech, Kogan Page’s Digital & Operations Director, Martin Klopstock said:

“Metadata is one of the less visible aspects of publishing but awards like this can ‘put it on the map’.” – Martin Klopstock, Digital & Operations Director, Kogan Page

While metadata is indeed less visible than other aspects of publishing, it underpins almost all of the processes that are intrinsic to both publishing and selling a product. Having the latest software at your fingertips takes the work out of streamlining and automating your metadata processes and other related digital workflows (such as sending review copies, dealing with printers, marketing and awards management, etc.), allowing your teams to focus on the business of publishing itself.

Take for example BiblioSuite’s ONIX Wizard this simple but unique piece of software identifies and flags any missing ONIX fields within a product record, helping publishers to ensure that the metadata for each of their titles is complete prior to any feeds being compiled for and/or disseminated to data recipients. The user-friendly Wizard interface makes metadata more accessible to the user, allowing anyone (regardless of their experience or technical prowess) to easily and quickly establish which ONIX fields are included in (or omitted from) a product record, without needing to rake through thousands of lines of code to work it out.

In addition, BiblioSuite enables publishers to compile ONIX feeds based on the requirements of each of their intended data recipients; allowing publishers to specify which ONIX fields should be sent to specific recipients whether data aggregators, distributors, bricks and mortar and/or online retailers, eBook or audiobook platforms and any supporting materials that should be packaged within the ONIX feed from files, assets and jackets, to marketing materials, eBook files and other digital resources via a dropdown list that they themselves set up upon the implementation of the Biblio system. This means that a publisher can choose, at the click of a button, whether to send an ONIX 2.1 or 3.0 feed to recipients, or specific fields and/or assets, based on each of their business partner’s requirements.

Publishers can also take advantage of BiblioSuite’s feed tracking report which tracks when the feed was sent, and to whom it was sent. In this way, Biblio users can effortlessly filter on dates, recipients, schedules and more, to report on any time period and/or recipient type they want.

These features all help publishers to become more efficient and save copious amounts of time, as Wayne State University Press’ Technical Manager, Bonnie Russell explains:

“We have gained a week’s worth of staff time in the sending of metadata to our distributors alone, allowing us much more flexibility in updating prices, reviews and awards information to both our distributors and our website.” — Bonnie Russell, Technical Project Manager, Wayne State University Press

Furthermore, BiblioSuite enables publishers to create custom copy types (whether for predefined Text Types from List 153 of the ONIX 3.0 code list, or any copy types required for internal use), all of which can be added to their personalized Biblio dashboards and screens, so they can effortlessly keep track of the metadata and fields that mean the most to their publishing house.

If you would like to find out more about BiblioSuite’s Product Data Management solution, visit our dedicated webpage, here, or keep reading for some top tips for compiling and maintaining world-class metadata.

Standing the Test of Time: Top Tips for World-Class Metadata

In February 2023, Publishers Weekly reported that “total online sales across print, eBook, and digital audiobook formats rose 5.6% in 2022” in the United States. Although not as impressive as the 43% increase in online sales reported by the same publication in January 2021, nor the fact that “backlist titles accounted for 67% of all print units purchased” in 2020, (both of which are clearly a result of the COVID-19 pandemic), there has nonetheless been an evident upshift in the popularity of digital products and online shopping over the past decade the latter of which has grown, COVID aside, at an average rate of 8.8% annually, according to WordsRated amid a widespread shift towards digital, as reported in the World Intellectual Property Organization’s latest Publishing Industry Report. Not to mention the current #BookTok marketing trend gaining the attention of younger generations (as witnessed in many regions across the globe).

This shift towards digital poses an excellent opportunity to give your metadata renewed attention, and in doing so and making every effort to ensure that your metadata is accurate, complete and descriptive you’ll be able to take advantage of this online boom and fully utilize it to maximize your sales.

Some top tips for success from Virtusales?

  1. Get your metadata right from the start Setting a high standard for your metadata now limits the time you’ll need to spend updating and possibly correcting your metadata in future (especially as your catalog continues to grow). Remember, the trustworthiness of your data is paramount as poor data can impact upon both your public image and subsequently your relationships with business partners further down the supply chain. Invest time in your metadata and you will (alongside your readers) reap the rewards.

  2. Your backlist is just as important as your frontlist Be sure to continue to update your backlist titles’ metadata, keywords and availability codes, so you can continue to benefit from past promotional efforts. Bear in mind that it’s far easier for consumers to find a title online that they already know about than it is to source a brand new title, so you’ll want to keep your metadata up-to-date to help readers find what they are looking for.

  3. Keep the format of your digital products at the forefront of your mind Publishers who ensure that their eBooks, audiobooks and other digital products are published in a format that is backwards compatible help to ensure the longevity of their catalog and its success. By choosing a backwards compatible format (such as EPUB for eBooks, and MP3 for audiobooks) each time a new device comes to market, you won’t need to update your publication’s format or recreate it from scratch.

  4. Choose a modern, flexible and highly-configurable publishing system to get the biggest bang for your buck Not all systems are born equal, so making sure you really assess the bibliographic and product data management functionality on offer from a prospective system versus your business requirements both for now and for the future is intrinsic to your success. NB: there’s only one system provider on the market which provides the latest version of its software to customers as an inclusive upgrade: BiblioSuite. And our rapid release cycle introduces new functionality and updates every 10 weeks, ensuring that Biblio customers stay ahead of the curve by gaining access to the latest functionality, tools and industry standards (such as ONIX 3.0.8, Thema 1.5, BISAC 2021, etc.) at the earliest opportunity.

More and more world-leading publishers and inspirational indies are choosing BiblioSuite publishing software to support their growth and success. And they are doing this with good reason, having seen and heard about the benefits that BiblioSuite has brought to fellow publishers. Take for example, the Book Industry Communication (BIC) Product Data Excellence Awards (soon to be relaunched as the BIC Metadata Excellence Award): 19 of our client publishers – including Canongate Books, Hachette UK, Hay House, Kogan Page, Manchester University Press, Michael O’Mara Books, Nosy Crow, Pan Macmillan, Penguin UK, The Random House Group and SPCK – have attained the top tier of accreditation, with many more working their way towards data excellence as I type.

This growing number of publishers can’t be wrong!

Contact us today to speak with one of our consultants about how BiblioSuite can help your publishing house to master its metadata.

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