It's time for publishers to get serious about metadata

It's time for publishers to get serious about metadata

I spent several years as a bookseller, before moving into the sales team at OUP Children’s Books, in a role focused on online. Here I gained a really close knowledge of online retailers, and how they both display metadata and use it behind the scenes. Since joining Pan Mac I’ve really been able to deepen my knowledge and become a specialist – which you need to be in order position your books effectively online.

For a long time it has seemed as though publishers were willing to let metadata take a backseat. They viewed it as part of a larger process, or a beneficial side-effect. With the Nielsen whitepaper on the link between metadata and sales giving us a clear view of the impact metadata can bring, and as competitors continue to develop their use of metadata, publishers are really beginning to see it for what it really is – our most important discovery tool.

© Neilsen 2016

Schemes like the BIC accreditation scheme are excellent for creating industry standards and fostering the use, and timeliness, of metadata. What they don’t do is measure the quality of that metadata. That’s up to you. It’s not about ticking boxes, it’s about making those boxes valuable. Metadata has two main functions - 1. Making a book discoverable online, and 2. Making the book look appealing for the customer. Metadata is key to driving online sales and it is essential that this is reflected in the publishing process.

Publishers place metadata staff in various departments – it can make sense for them to sit with editorial, or sales, or as their own distinct department. In Pan Mac, we sit in the digital communications team. This works for us because this team’s focus is on the end consumer – their journey through our content, whether that be through social media, our Book Break YouTube channel, or our email newsletters. Metadata is all about the consumer. Getting that book in front of your potential readers – and making it look good enough to buy. The final part of that journey is the online retail experience – all that work you’ve done to get your customer to that buy button is wasted if your metadata is confusing and unappealing.

The development of the digital marketplace has been a major change for the industry, but it is not a movement from one static place to another; there are always new technologies to adapt to, new tools of discovery, and new patterns of consumer behaviour. Developments like Thema and ONIX 3 are there to resolve problems in the supply chain, to be of benefit to publishers – so why aren’t we adopting them faster? Metadata will continue to evolve, and the biggest challenge publishers face is to be willing to adapt, to share knowledge, and to invest in their systems and their staff to be able to take advantage of the tools available. 

On that note, here are the three elements of best practice I think are most important to share.

1. Develop Relationships

A close working relationship with editorial is essential – especially if you have a small team. Developing training sessions, digestible guidelines for easy reference, and useful reports can really help to resolve issues that may seem small, but can have a serious impact. Editorial staff who have a strong understanding of metadata helps improve your metadata quality long term, and frees up your time for larger issues. My role involves a lot problem solving. The ability to resolve issues around retail site function, feed issues and data management systems makes metadata an essential point of contact not just for editorial, but for sales and marketing teams as well.

2. Be flexible

Metadata is flexible. Use the knowledge of your colleagues to spot opportunities where you can really push backlist titles using metadata. When you’re reactive to events and customer habits you stand a better chance of being relevant. The underlying question of a search algorithm is ‘what is the most relevant result?’ and if you want your book to be the answer, then you need to balance the expectations of those around you. Many often assume the widest field possible makes your book the most discoverable – but this is rarely the case. Is an age range of 0-16 useful to a parent choosing a book? Will stuffing your keywords with bestselling titles get your book in the top ten? No – because it is not answering that key question of relevance. Getting your book in front of customers who don’t want to buy it doesn’t help anybody – but reaching those who do, is what metadata is all about.

3. Give feedback

I always try to provide examples of success to show our teams what metadata can do; how communication helped us to spot opportunities, and how we’ve resolved various issues on retail sites. Providing tangible results, whether they be Amazon rankings, YouTube views, or sales figures, really encourages the wider company to get involved with metadata. I track the incoming requests we get, and have begun to send out monthly reports of the issues we’ve resolved, and make sure to include a few practical examples. Since we’ve started doing this, we’ve seen a huge increase in requests – it’s really helped to improve the understanding of metadata across the business. When other teams know what we can do, it puts us in the best position to make improvements where there is the most benefit - and get those books into the hands of our readers.