Metadata is the new most important thing to know about
Several very recent conversations have come together for me.
1. Joe Esposito, the new CEO of GiantChair, says metadata is the key to publishing in the future; he describes metadata as the modern equivalent of Allen Lane’s discovery that cheaper paperback books sold in mass merchant locations could boost book sales. Of course, Giant Chair is very much involved in metadata as a way to help publishers find marketers and customers.
2. F+W and Ingram have come together to make a deal enabling niche web sites to sell the full range of applicable ebooks to their community. Of course, finding “applicable” ebooks will be dependent on the quality of the metadata that publishers provide to Ingram. I really liked seeing this happen, because it is the first significant example of something I’ve predicted and advocated: that publishers who want to go after communities should sell the books of their competitors and that all web sites should deliver curated ebook stores of the titles of interest to their site visitors.
3. A list discusses whether the publisher has a role in the future, what it is, and how the spoils in a new world should be divided between the publisher and the author. One observer points to the nuances in royalty rates: the royalty implications of the wholesale model versus the agency model, whether or not the commission paid to the agent is or isn’t deducted from “receipts” for purposes of calculating royalties, and what the competitive implications are for publishers going after authors. This gives rise to the next question: are publishers differentiated on royalty rates alone, as though each publisher would sell the same number of books? And that gives rise to the next point: understanding, quality, and richness of metadata can determine how successfully publishers can sell a book.
4. One of the biggest issues for publishers in managing and providing quality metadata is associating all the works and editions of them for each author with that author, and while that challenge intensifies when they look at the author’s books published by others, the fact is that most current royalty systems have plenty of problems keeping track of the multiple titles and editions of any author that they themselves have published.
5. Filedby, the directory of author web sites I co-founded with Peter Clifton, has a new metadata clean-up service called Author Data Advantage that makes it simple and economical for publishers to organize their works and edition data properly tied to each author and to keep it that way as new works and editions are created. Filedby’s service, which any publisher can avail themselves of, can tie all the editions of a work together, relate them accurately to each author or other contributor, and provide each of the authors with a unique ID. That allows the publisher to tie the marketing, reviews, conversation, community, rights, and digital promotions back to the right work and the right author.
Metadata work for publishers is, really, a bottomless pit, since it is, in effect, “information about the book” and there is no limit to that. There will be no end to the categories of quality, interest, and association each book can have attached to it. How many books published in years past, for example, should now be associated with “Gulf oil spill?” If you published one discussing whether using chemical dispersants is a good idea or not, I think you’d probably want somebody googling “Gulf oil spill” to find it, wouldn’t you?
The list conversation referred to above was really about the difference in royalty rates offered by publishers and how the authors cents-per-copy is affected by the agency versus wholesale model. My own hunch is that this won’t matter much in the short run because dollars offered in the advance will still be far more important to the authors’ and agents’ decision than selling policies that can change between signing and publication. In the longer run, differences in the ways publishers handle metadata might be relatively more important because it will affect how many copies they sell.
In an earlier post, I made the point that we’re approaching the day that half the sales of new books will be made online. All the sales of books online are highly dependent on metadata. Very robust metadata can enable a book and author to get discovered when more minimal, even though correct, metadata would omit it from the conversation. Incorrect metadata can prevent a book from being found even if the customer knows pretty much what they’re looking for.
Metadata, what it is and how it affects discovery and sales, is a subject that every book professional will find increasingly important to understand and master in the days to come.
Last year I wrote a post suggesting that one way publishers might deal with piracy is by posting sabotaged files on offending sites, rather than just playing whack-a-mole. This triggered more than a few hostile reactions. I found it ironic to see yesterday that the new Stephanie Meyer ebook could be the occasion for software mischief-makers to come into conflict with copyright mischief-makers, using infected PDFs of a book many people want as a way to gain entree into people’s computers with malware. So now the hackers who want to attack your operating system are the allies of the publishers who want to discourage people from downloading ebooks from anything but clearly-authorized sites.