Publishers must participate in the evolution of metadata standards, improve the accuracy of inputting that data, and broaden the access to companies outside of their customer base, delegates at a seminar on ‘The Practical Application of Meaningful Metadata’ organised by Book Industry Communication (BIC) earlier this month heard. There were also warnings that delays in the digital supply chain could undermine publishers’ efforts to be reactive and create dynamic pricing for their e-books.
George Walkley, head of digital at Hachette UK, said meaningful metadata was crucial for the industry at a time when more than 1m print books are being published each year, more than 250,000 new e-books were put on Amazon’s Kindle store last quarter, and over 1,000 new apps are published every day.
“Getting the consumer’s attention is now the critical challenge for my business," Walkey said. "For the first time in history the consumer can access every form of mass media on one device in their pocket: my challenge is how to get a share of the consumer’s discretionary time on that device. If I don’t have good metadata then there is no chance the consumer is going to make that choice.”
But he warned that the slow adoption to new standards such as ONIX 3 or the use of the mapping facility Thema, reduced the effectiveness of such information. “There is a network benefit to standards, if a couple of people use them then they are not so useful, if an entire industry is using them, suddenly they become far more useful,” Walkley said.
He also questioned trade publishers’ commitment to improving the current situation. “Publishers are not as involved in standards organisations as they might be. I can sometimes be the only trade publisher in the room, or one of only two or three. If you want your metadata to be meaningful be involved in shaping the standards behind it.” He said problems were often encountered at the inputting stage where assistants might be used but without the necessary cross-checking by senior editors or publishers. “It needs care and attention, but metadata entry can sometimes be the one thing standing between [an assistant] and the pub.” He likened the importance of accurate metadata, with publisher catalogues, which were assidiously pored over by senior publishers.
Walkley also highlighted retailer delays in the processing of publisher metadata changes. “If I send a feed to my supply chain, I know by noon a number of my customers will have processed that feed and the changes will have have shown up in their stores, but I can think of two other customers where it can take anything up to two or three days for that to happen, and I can think of some where it takes over a week, and one where it can take over a fortnight. In the context of an old fashioned supply chain this was perhaps acceptable, but we are trying to be more dynamic, react to events, and re-price more often, and this sort of data inconsistency is a real issue. The supply chain ought to work to a consistently fast level in an ideal world.” Walkley said he would like to see a retailer accreditation scheme to look at other players in the supply chain.
He also stressed that publishers ought to make their metadata more widely available, especially to those new companies that might need access at early stages in new product development. “Good meaningful data needs to be available to those who need it, not just those we’ve already signed contracts with. There is an outer wall around our industry that says our data is very accessible if you are one of us, but if you are a new business with a new type of product, much less so.”
Lindsey Mooney, Kobo’s content lead for UK and Ireland, agreed that bad metadata remained a problem for the sector. “Good metadata is absolutely key, without it we won’t be able be able sell your books. It is what helps sell your books, and shouldn’t be left to a junior person. Every single person in the business should care about this.”