Darren Ryan
Darren Ryan 3 December 2019
Categories B2B, Content, Technology

Why Book Metadata is Crucial for Sales

The unique information of a publication - or its metadata - is the make or break of a book's success in the market. This idea is not new, yet publishers are ignoring this aspect of the business.

There was a time when the marketing of books relied on the information on the front cover. And possibly the ISBN on the back cover. Those were the days that books were searched for by real humans on actual bookshelves. But times have changed with the rapid influx of technology into all facets of our lives. Publishers have not kept pace however - to the detriment of their sales figures.

Yes, publishers should be focusing on the literary aspect of their publications. Book metadata is not exactly riveting stuff, but neglecting it means that brilliant pieces of writing may not be exposed to their full potential. If they're not accessed by readers, they rot in the lower shelves of libraries or on the edges of the internet as unread e-books. The more metadata is available for a publication, the more discoverable it is and the more it will sell. 

Search engines and retailers like Amazon use APIs - basically an interface that allows apps to talk to one another - that give software developers access to publishers' metadata. The more metadata that is made available, the greater the chance that the publication will be discovered in the world of e-commerce. This is key for sales and marketing, obviously. 

What is metadata?

There are two types of metadata: core and enhanced metadata. 

  • Core metadata - as the name suggests - is the critical data needed to list and sell an ebook. This is the information we're generally used to, like title, author and contributors, category, ISBN and digital rights management.

  • Enhanced metadata historically had the connotation of being an optional extra. It's also referred to as marketing-related metadata, which suggests its importance in how a book is promoted. This includes descriptions, author bios, excerpts, images, Q&As, reviews and multimedia. It's been an area that's been slow to start, but awareness of its role is growing. These fields are often the ones left empty by publishers. 

What's metadata got to do with sales?

Nielson Book conducted a study in 2016 which revealed that publishers are leaving existing metadata fields empty. This might be based on the idea that these are optional, that they're not significant. But these fields are often the basis for an upsell to another title by the same author or another author with a similar writing style or genre. This, then, leaves no excuse for poor sales. 

By taking such a relaxed view of metadata and neglecting the practice of meticulously filling out as many fields as possible, publishers are their own worst enemy. Books simply cannot be found, even if there is a potentially large market for them.

How can technology help?

ONIX for Books is based on XML and provides a consistent standard for expansive and detailed metadata. This allows the sharing of information about books from publishers to their retailers and to other members of the supply chain. It is a global standard, not bound to any particular language or region, and it is a way for databases to share data with one another, albeit not a database in itself.

Newer versions of ONIX allow for print and ebooks to be linked, appealing to both market segments. 

You can't overdo it with metadata

The direct link between metadata provided and successful sales is clear. For publishers to continue neglecting this element is short-sighted. It's more than simply a matter of admin and it should be prioritised. 

While it is the publishing of literature itself which is the appealing work in this industry, the less glamorous side must be properly taken care of too. Change is hard and technology can seem daunting or pointless sometimes, but it's moving at such a pace and it can benefit publishers to such a massive extent, that it cannot be left to chance. The next time you're about to go into publishing mode, make sure to fill in as much metadata as possible. Make a habit of this and see if it's affected the sales numbers come year-end. 

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