Over the weekend of Amazon vs. Macmillan: the Grudge Match, AllRomanceeBooks gave out a limited-time 50% off coupon, prompting many of us to go shopping (myself included) and all of us collectively to crash their poor servers. (My servers, I hear, are starting a support group to help their servers recover from the onslaught). While discussing the coupon and the sales options within OmniLit.com andAllRomanceeBooks, Lori James and I got into a discussion about metadata and why it’s important to readers and to booksellers. While much of this pertains to digital shopping, since so many of us shop online for both paper and digital books, I was very curious about how information about the book affects how the book can and is sold. So, ahoy, nosy questions from me (who knows little about bookselling) for Lori, who’s pretty knowledgable.
What is metadata?
Lori: Metadata is basically data about data. What we’re really talking about is data about books, everything from the book’s summary and author name to the publication date and word count.
As a bookseller, why is publisher metadata crucial for you?
Lori: Metadata is important to all booksellers, but it’s especially vital for a digital bookseller. We rely on it to replicate the bookstore browsing experience. When the metadata is rich and accurate, we can even improve on the brick and mortar experience in some ways. Our goal is to get the books readers want into their hands. Good metadata can do that. Great metadata can do more. It can help readers find books they didn’t know they wanted or needed.
What types of metadata on a book are absolutely essential?
Lori: Title, category, author, cover, summary, publisher and price are essential. Readers additionally expect the word count (page count is meaningless in the digital word), excerpt, and reviews. Publishers that don’t provide that information are missing opportunity.
What are some of the most common things publishers miss?
#1 missed opportunity: Lack of appropriate categorization.
The default is for a bookseller to “shelve” a book where the publisher tells us to shelve it. In the All Romance and Omnilit stores, we’ll shelve in up to three categories. Many publishers fail to maximize the potential use of shelf space or they make the mistake of categorizing too broadly. We do have the ability, thank goodness, to add categories and correct categories and we frequently do so.
#2 missed opportunity: Inconsistent reporting of the author name.
J.R. Ward, J. R. Ward, and JR Ward are unique. In the digital world, reference linking is key. When a user enters J.R. Ward in a search, they expect to have ALL of her books returned. We’re constantly cleaning up these issues.
#3 missed opportunity: No summary/excerpt
If a customer comes to our store to buy a particular book, this isn’t important. But it’s extremely important when it comes to secondary sales. Most of our customers purchase multiple titles at a time and we present them with additional browsing opportunities. The pattern we see over and over is that readers are pulled in by cover/title>summary>excerpt>add to cart. So each of those items pay a very important role in getting the customer to the point of purchase.
Should there be a metadata standard? Who could enforce it?
Lori: ONIX (Online Information Exchange) is essentially the industry metadata standard. Onix 1.0 was launched in 2000. It was the result of collaboration between the AAP (American Association of Publishers), major wholesalers, online retailers, and book information services. The current standard, Onix 3.0, contains over 200, each with a standard definition. Major wholesalers (Ingram, Baker & Taylor, and R.R. Bowker) have adopted the Onix standard and most major on-line booksellers have moved or are moving toward it.
One data point we capture that Onix doesn’t (and therefore the major wholesalers don’t), is the sensuality or heat rating for romance. We’ve found this to be a very important element. Onix captures the reading level (i.e. Adult), but that really isn’t the same thing. A romance reader’s taste is very nuanced and they want to know what to expect when they pick up a book.
One way in which I’ve used metadata is to categorize books for sorting using the Sony Reader software. Alas, the categories feature is not available for Amazon or, to my knowledge, Nook. On-device organization is one thing I adore about the Sony platform. You “tag” a set of book with different words like “historical,” “December 2010,” or “Regency Era” and those categories show up on the device with those books inside. It’s deliriously awesome. I miss it.
Another way I use metadata is when I’m shopping. One of my favorite things is related books, based on my prior purchases or what I have in my shopping cart. I’ve ended up with a few more paperbacks than I’ve intended based on the “customers also bought,” and “you might like” and have tried new authors based on those linked recommendations. Sure, I take them with a grain of salt but every now and again I discover writers that are entirely glommable.
Do you notice how books are described when you shop online? Is heat rating super important to you as a reader?