Imagine going into your favorite store to buy something. The shelves are lined with all sorts of goods but there are no signs telling you where the thing you are looking for is located. No product descriptions, no prices, no information whatsoever. You look for an employee to help you but they cannot provide any information either because it is missing from the store. Perhaps you have found what you are looking for but you need more data in order to make a purchase. If that data isn’t available, what is the obvious conclusion? You leave. In the online world where people are navigating in a virtual space without walls, visual cues and data are essential for the buying process. For publishers and authors selling physical and eBooks, this information comes in the form of metadata.
Book metadata is the descriptive information that corresponds to a book such as author, title, ISBN, page count, and a variety of other information. In years past, this data was primarily used by the printing and publishing industries however with the explosion of online book retailing, metadata has been re-purposed. Without rich and complete metadata, it is more difficult for buyers to discover your books and for retailers to discover them for buyers. Without metadata, it is as if buyers are walking into a store that has no information about the products it has in inventory other than the products themselves. Having essential metadata elements means that publishers and content creators will sell more books.
Over 200 various metadata elements are defined by ONIX (Online Information eXchange) for use in eBooks. ONIX is the international standard for representing book, serial and video product information in a digital form. It is important to note that not all elements are necessary for every book and the type of data that is best will depend heavily on a publisher’s intentions for that data as well as what suppliers require. There is however a core set of elements that are commonly relied upon. These are pieces of data that are required for virtually every title. Sometimes there may be pieces of data that are required but only if they apply to a specific type of book. Examples of required data could be ISBN, author, title, publisher, publication date, description of content, physical dimensions, publisher status code, return code and a digital image of the book (typically the cover image).
Metadata and SEO
Whether you are selling eBooks or physical books metadata is important for SEO (Search Engine Optimization). It is important to note that this mainly applies to product metadata which is different from metadata that us used in eBook conversions. According to data from the Pew Research Center, as of February of 2012, over 73% of Americans used a search engine to find something online. On any given day early on in 2012, more than half of Americans were online using a search engine. This means that being found in search is paramount to being successful at selling your books online. Metadata helps to facilitate that discovery by users.
When search engines first emerged, algorithms that are used to rank web pages were not as advanced as they are today. They relied on signals that could easily be manipulated so users were not getting relevant content to their searches. Today, algorithms are extremely advanced (by one estimate it is said that Google has put almost 1,000 person years into perfecting their algorithm) allowing users to get the most relevant content. This means that metadata must be very rich with descriptive content so that books of any kind can be found in search. Authors and publishers can make sure the titles they are selling get found by including all applicable data that relates to the specific book. More accurate and complete content means books will be found more easily with user queries. Being found more easily means more sales.
Making Your Data Stand Out
At the beginning of a book’s life cycle, there is a lot of data that simply isn’t available to be included as metadata. As time goes on however, more data about a specific title begins to accumulate. A book may win awards, there may be reviews published, an author may give interviews, and new images may be associated with the book. All of this information should be added to metadata to enhance it. This extra data is part of the book’s identity and can more easily help it be found in search or help people through the buying process. For instance a person who is interested in purchasing a specific title may look for reviews on it first. Reviews may have been performed but if they are hard to find, this could be a lost sale for publishers or authors.
Author biographies are another great piece of information to include in metadata along with comprehensive descriptions and reviews. The more information that can be provided, the more ways there are for a book to be discovered giving it more exposure.
Essential Data for eBook Files
As mentioned before, metadata used for product descriptions online and for administrative purposes is different from metadata used in the eBook conversion process. Metadata requirements also vary based on the standard being used with common formats being EPUB (iBooks, NOOK, Sony Reader, Google Play, iRiver Story, Kobo Reader, Blackberry Playbook, and a variety of others), Mobipocket (Palm, Blackberry, Windows, Cybook, iLiad), and Microsoft Reader (compatible on the proprietary Microsoft Reader program). Depending on the specific format, there are different required pieces of metadata. For instance EPUB and Mobipocket files should include title, creator, file name, publisher, type, format, and language. For authors and publishers, converting into as many of the popular formats as possible so that a title can be accessed by many different devices is essential for maximum exposure. Many eBook conversion providers can make this happen.
In the online world where even the tangible loses its characteristics, accurate and complete information about a book is more important than ever. Buyers online use data as a substitute for being able to hold and look at a product. In the case of books, online buyers do not have the luxury of finding detailed information about a title like they can in a book store when they have the object in front of them. Metadata provides that experience and not enough or low quality data can mean the difference between making a sale or not.
For more information on metadata and how to use it, check out Best Practices for Data Senders published by the Book Industry Study Group (BISG). Another great resource is the Metadata Handbook which features tons of relevant information on Metadata and how it is used.