Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.
Old publishing problems often reappear in new forms, as any senior publishing executive will tell you. One obvious example is the basic book title information we now call “metadata.”
Metadata runs like digital lifeblood from publisher to retailer, and is critical to making books pop on the retailer’s homepage and in personalized marketing emails to readers. Over the past decade, publishers have developed new workflows for managing their metadata, and some have even migrated their data to ONIX, the highly efficient XML format for sharing metadata throughout the industry. However, it remains critically important for publishers to continue to upgrade their metadata reviews and workflows, as retailer websites and the industry pipeline continue to evolve.
To that end, here are five questions publishing executives need to ask their teams right now about their metadata:
1. Who owns the metadata processes at each step of a book’s life cycle?
When it comes to optimizing metadata, publishers typically focus on new releases, since they are the most likely to be promoted and to attract media attention. In addition, all of the team members who can deliver the best metadata are actively engaged: the author, as well as the publisher’s editorial, marketing and publicity teams. But what happens after a few years pass and a book becomes a backlist title?
As a book moves through its life cycle, publishers need to ensure that backlist metadata will get the dedicated attention required on a regular basis. This may mean regular title reviews by category to ensure all BISAC codes reflect current keyword trends and the latest guidelines from the Book Industry Study Group (BISG). There may also be regular requests for author bio updates to reflect a new bestseller status, any awards received, or related book releases (especially in a series). Over the course of a year, publishers should cycle through their entire catalog if possible—or perhaps every two years for deep backlist. This will ensure that older titles have a chance to continue to sell perennially.
2. Should we be using ONIX 3.0?
ONIX helps publishers establish consistent metadata, which in turn allows retailers to display the titles to their best effect, enabling readers to easily find them—and buy them. Retailers also typically process ONIX data before spreadsheet data, leading to a shortened time to market for ONIX publishers. Additionally, ONIX allows errors to be addressed more quickly across a group of titles.
Despite these benefits, most publishers are still using spreadsheets to manage their metadata. But even multiple spreadsheets do not replicate the richness of the XML format on which ONIX is built, which can represent more than 200 fields, and allows publishers to maximize sales through better engagement with the elaborate algorithms used in retailer search engines.
Integrating the ONIX standard into publisher workflows takes some planning and effort, but has proven valuable for publishers with at least 50 books, who are adding five or more titles per month to their catalog.
However, most publishers currently using ONIX are working in version 2.1, which is more than a decade old and was primarily designed for print processes. Version 3.0, which has been available since 2009, is significantly better at handling not just print books, but also the different needs of digital products. While some publishers may have delayed migration to 3.0 because many retailers still don’t accept it, a good distribution partner should be able to help publishers get the right version of ONIX to the right retailer in order to take advantage of the benefits of ONIX 3.0 where possible. Moving on this is critical to positioning your company for growth, just as the migration from PDF to EPUB was for publishers in the past five-plus years.