Aug 8, 2011

Why Metadata is the Key to Your Digital Future

By Edward Nawotka - We might not know what the publishing landscape will look like in five years, but metadata is the one thing you can confidently take control of now to future proof your business.

Q: What is Metadata and why is it so important for bespoke publishing services?

Metadata might still sound like something intimidating for some, but it is actually very simple. Metadata is all of the information associated with a book or publication that is used to produce, publish, distribute, market, promote and sell the book. This includes very simple things, such as the title, author of a book, cover and format, to much more complicated data, such as the terms of the publishing contract, rights information, print run, sales data, reviews, etc. It usually takes the form of a file contained in a database that will contain information for all the publishers books. This file can then be output into a digital file or spreadsheet that can be used by search engines, retailers and other digital media to display and sell your book.

Q: Why is it important for publishers to continually educate themselves and update their knowledge about Metadata?

Metadata is, essentially, the story of the book. It tells people everything they need to know about about the book and how to work with it. Without good metadata in place, every person who comes in contact with the book — from the editor to the printer to the bookseller — will have to recreate the metadata for the book, which can introduce errors. If one person accidentally spells the author’s name wrong, to take one example, that might never be fixed and people looking for the book in a computer database would never be able to find book in the system. The book — and all that investment in time, money and effort — would essentially be lost as well. Formats and devices may change — and we honestly don’t know what the publishing landscape will look like in five to ten years — but metadata is the one thing you can confidently take control of now, no matter what happens in the future.

Q: What are the benefits of developing better metadata?

The good news is that getting the metadata right will ensure that people who are looking for your book — whether it’s a novel or a textbook on biochemistry — will be able to find it when they search for it online. Search engines, social networks, e-book retailers all depend on metadata to help users find their book. Get it wrong and they’ll never find it and you’ll lose the sale; get it right and it is going to be the first book that will pop up after a search query. That’s just good sales and marketing. It’s also all-important for libraries who want to be able to manage their collections and help patrons.

Q: How can publishers incorporate a better metadata strategy into their digital workflow?

It is essentially the same as what you do for print, only instead of doing it for a physical book, you’re doing it for a digital file. The important thing to remember is metadata changes as it moves through the system as different people at the publishing house work on it. The editor might make revisions to the description of the book’s content, the marketing department would add details about sales, as would the publicity department after the book goes out into the world. Metadata also allows you to revise and refine the information as new taxonomies, standards and practices emerge, thus ensuring that your book is futureproofed.

Q: Isn’t metadata just something the digital departments of publishers need to worry about?

Simply put, it needs to be a part of everyone’s job description. The problem comes when a house instills a “digital director” and everyone else starts to think “well, that’s not my job anymore.” Metadata is a tool that everyone can use to help make a book a success and keep it alive in the marketplace much longer. Many people outsource their metadata for e-books to the service providers who also convert and/or distribute their e-books, which can also work very well — provided they are one in the same. Having different sets of metadata spread across too many companies gets complicated when you want to change something and makes fixing problems when they arise all the more complicated.

Q: Where can people learn the best way to work with metadata?

You can do it by trial and error, but that can lead to a lot of mistakes, particularly with companies that don’t have a lot experience working with digital platforms. There are numerous experts who can teach you the dos-and-dont’s, how to work with specific retailers, and offer real world experience. At the Metadata Perspectives Conference at Frankfurt, we’ll offer five-hours of intensive theoretical and practical training from the best people in the business. We’ll teach you about the different types of metadata, how it changes for different scenarios, from a search engine on an e-bookseller to social media, and what you need to know for the future. Anyone who attends the conference will be able to go back to their companies with the confidence that they are going to get their metadata right and sell more books.

Presenters at this year’s conference include Fran Toolan, Firebrand Technologies, USA; Ingrid S. Goldstein, Knowledge Architectures, UK/Germany; Michael Bhaskar of Profile Books, UK; Steve Paxhia: Chairman, and Jonathan Hevenstone, EVP of Jouve North America; the editorial department of Sourcebooks, USA; and others. The Metadata Perspectives Conference takes place during the Frankfurt Book Fair, 13 October 2011, 9:30 a.m.-2 p.m.

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