Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Better Metadata Will Ensure That Canadian Books Donít Get Lost Online
We’ve been doing a lot of work around discoverability for the last year or so, especially with regard to how readers discover books—or other cultural products—online. A version of this post appeared as part of feature called “7.5 Ideas for Fixing Canadian Publishing” in the 75th Anniversary Issue of Quill & Quire, Canada’s Magazine of Book News and Reviews, April 2010.
How do readers find books today? In many respects, the same ways they always have: word-of-mouth recommendations from friends, suggestions from trusted sources such as booksellers or media reviews, and impulse buying from end caps, table displays, or homepages.
But we’re also discovering books in very new ways. For one thing, our filters are shifting. Newspaper review sections are shrinking, and there are fewer independent bookstores hand-selling books. But it’s the Internet that is really moving the needle on book discovery: the Web is where we go to find out about things, and increasingly it’s where we go to find books. Whether we buy them online or not, we look up books on Amazon or other major retailers’ sites, we join online book communities, we read blogs, we share links to books that catch our interest, and we discover books while searching or browsing online.
This is more than a change in behaviour. It also marks a sea change in book marketing. It used to be that the press release or catalogue was the foundation of the marketing plan. No more. Now it’s the metadata: the title information that publishers send out into the world about their books.
If publishers don’t begin improving the quality and depth of their metadata, they risk being lost in a sea of information and competing titles-especially the rising tide of books published outside of Canada. Good metadata makes it easier for people to find and buy books: it registers a book’s availability throughout the supply chain, allows the book to be presented on retailer websites, and primes the awareness pump for search engines, bloggers, online book communities, media, and readers of all kinds. Bad data makes books invisible in a crowded marketplace where the balance of power is shifting to readers.
If you’re a publisher, what other information could you include in your data file that would help readers - or librarians, or educators - find your books? How about expanded author information such as a detailed bio, a photo, and the author’s nationality? Or rich descriptive content like review quotes, extended book descriptions, or excerpts? Did the book get nominated for or win any awards?
Every publisher has this information. Relatively few include this rich content in their data feeds, but it’s time to do so. Above all, publishers need to own their data - to ensure its accuracy and completeness and to be authoritative sources of information about their books. It’s too valuable a resource to be treated any other way.