September 5, 2016

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Reimagining book publishing with metadata optimization

How book publishers can leverage metadata to creatively package and distribute content in engaging formats for various reader segments

The Internet continues to disintermediate traditional value chains across multiple industries, disrupting conventional business models. The book publishing sector is no exception to this trend, as pure-play online content distribution platforms facilitate enhanced reader choice and convenience, eating into incumbents’ market share and margins.

The medium-term outlook does not look too promising either. PwC expects book sales worldwide to rise at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of a mere 1.3%, to $128.34bn by 2019, as compared to $120.13bn in 2014.

So, what can you do–proactively–to get back on a high growth trajectory, and compete effectively in a fiercely competitive digital marketplace? Effective direct-to-consumer marketing might hold the key. Enabling easier discoverability of your rich library of old and new content, as well as of authors, could help you acquire new customers, and deepen relationships with existing ones.

And, one tangible way to do that is through consistent preparation and use of product metadata–the self-referential, secondary information that captures the primary attributes related to your books.

Metadata: Your Digital Lifeline

Metadata can serve as a powerful sales and marketing tool that fosters effective dissemination of comprehensive and accurate information on books across their lifespan, and the entire supply chain. Optimizing both core metadata–including ISBN, title, author, price and publisher–as well as enhanced metadata, comprising detailed parameters such as the cover, blurb, author biography, and reviews, are essential.

You need to provide robust metadata to boost the visibility of your assets on retailer websites, and drive higher clickthroughs in direct marketing emails. Metadata can also facilitate easy, search-based discovery and usage tracking of digital images. Moreover, rich metadata tagging can drive higher book rankings. In fact, a Nielsen study estimates that enhanced metadata elements can determine up to 55% of a book’s sales.

Challenges in Creating and Distributing Metadata

Publishers need to address the following concerns pertaining to metadata standards and quality, and portfolio and rights management:

  • Interoperability and varied standards: Book Industry Standard and Communications (BISAC) codes are primarily used in the U.S., with the U.K. adopting Book Industry Communication (BIC) codes. Plus, book sellers and trading partners follow varied rules and standards for different types of metadata. For instance, Amazon lets you use seven keywords in your metadata, while Nook Press allows up to 10 characters. So, one needs to review the keyword lists recommended by such distributors while crafting metadata. Furthermore, most publishing houses have grown inorganically through mergers and acquisitions over the years. This has resulted in the prevalence of multiple, non-harmonious standards and systems within the enterprise, thereby making the task of consistent metadata management challenging. You need a federated system to formalize metadata, and reduce the time to market for new product launches. Adoption of interoperable online metadata standards, which support different types of content and business models, is also crucial.
  • Diverse product portfolio: To ensure relevance in a hypercompetitive digital marketplace, you have to build a diverse product portfolio, spanning mobile applications, ebooks, interactive apps, games, and learning modules. It is, therefore, imperative to link various complex product relationships, and create metadata that reflects the needs of each product.
  • Metadata lifecycle: Mapping the flow of metadata across the supply chain is important, given that it undergoes multiple changes during its interplay with various organizational functions–including editorial, marketing, sales and publicity. Without effective tracking across the metadata lifecycle, you will find it onerous to make requisite changes, and fix problems, once a book has been published.
  • Quality: For metadata to yield the desired qualitative and quantitative benefits, keywords and all other core attributes must be captured and formatted correctly.
  • Rights management: Currently, there is a lack of standardization as far as the taxonomy of rights is concerned. Publishers must adopt uniform cross-media rights communication standards and a unique identifier for better organization of metadata and rights information. You need robust digital services to digitize copyright content, and distribute the same to libraries and other entities.

Making the Most of Metadata

So, how can one effectively address these challenges, and generate optimum return on investment (ROI) with regard to metadata creation and distribution? Publishers can adopt the following best practices for sound metadata management and governance:

  • Create complete, accurate and properly formatted metadata to institutionalize consistent adoption of the right formats, identifiers and author naming conventions. This would help avoid errors, and increase the discoverability of your books.
  • Incorporate the right keywords in your metadata to improve the rankings of books across various third-party online retail stores. Define keywords per paragraph or chapter to accurately analyze your catalogues, and improve associated decision making.
  • Create vendor specific metadata in alignment with specific standards, as well as pricing factors and territorial requirements of individual retailers, distributors and other partners, to boost supply chain transparency. Also undertake controlled experiments to modify vendors’ metadata by tweaking their algorithms, in order to achieve higher rankings.
  • Use robust spreadsheets to manage, organize and update metadata. Such tools can help you track metadata concerning different authors, add new vendors for existing titles, and upload fresh assets onto existing vendor systems.
  • Create centralized master data management (MDM) hubs for various dictionaries, business glossaries and standards. You might also consider connecting vendors’ metadata management tools with your MDM hubs.
  • Systematically test, review and refine metadata, based on feedback gathered from retail and sales channels.

Positioning Yourself for Growth

By crafting comprehensive and granular metadata, book publishers can provide the right context for their various assets, and effectively promote the same for differentiated positioning in a cluttered marketplace. You could begin by integrating enterprise workflows with the Online Information Exchange (ONIX) standard, for robust digital product management. Second, adopt robust platforms that foster metadata automation, as well as integration of the same with the content creation lifecycle. Finally, analyze enhanced metadata for filtering information, detecting patterns and trends, and gleaning actionable insights for boosting reader engagement.