There’s been a lot of talk about metadata recently, how important it is for digital content and the barriers and challenges all parties in the supply chain experience with metadata. But what is it really?
- Metadata. (met·a·da·ta)
Dictionary defn. data about data; descriptive statistical information about the elements of a set of data
While dictionary definitions are great that doesn’t help much does it… What it comes down to is this:
- Purchasing decisions are made in seconds. If the content doesn’t appeal and provide the information needed to make a purchasing decision in seconds the sale is lost.
Metadata, in the real world context of digital content, is data related to a digital media product that is used to catalog and market the content. It’s everything… the Title, Subtitle, Series, Author, Subject, Description, Reviews, Author Bios, Art – every little bit of information that relates to the content.
Digital content is different from its physical counterparts, not only in terms of the delivery and purchase process, but also in terms of the interaction experience the purchaser has with the product before the purchase.
A failure to present meaningful and accurate information can deter a purchase, even from the most committed who will wonder – Is this the title I want? – if the metadata isn’t clear. It’s not like they can page through in all cases – or would take the time to if they’re browsing while in line at the dry cleaner.
Erroneous information is even worse – would you buy a book that has a misspelling in something as important as the Title field or had no description or author listed? Or would you consider it a flag that the product is low quality? (Think about the last time you saw a damaged good in a store – that wasn’t clearance or in the scratch-and-dent section…)
Another term appearing in a number of recent conversations about metadata is ‘metadata rot’. And while there’s been a lot of talk about metadata ‘aging’ and the need for metadata related to digital content to stay current perhaps what hasn’t been said bluntly is:
- stale metadata = stale content
In the digital world of shiny and new and immediate access there’s no room for stale, or the appearance of stale. If your title had a movie tie-in in 2008 you probably shouldn’t reference the “upcoming new film release” in your metadata in 2010.
So, while there’s been a lot of talk recently about what metadata is and how it needs to be great and current a recurring refrain on the supply side of the chain is: I get it, it has to be great, and everyone keeps talking about it but I don’t have the resources and I don’t know what I’m supposed to do…
So here are some tips from the trenches:
- Look at the catalogs of others in the space at a variety of retailers, and not just the big guys – take a look at some of the independent listings too – every exposure and discovery of content counts. Then look at your catalog and metadata, what’s better or worse about your catalog/metadata?
- Review your current practices honestly and with a fresh and critical eye. What improvements or enhancements could be made? Are you really putting your best assets forward? Changes and improvements don’t have to be all or nothing – if you can start with frontlist releases at least start and make plans to circle back to your older catalog.
- Listen to your supply chain partners (like us!). If they’re asking you for more, or better, metadata there’s a reason. Just because a field is ‘optional’ or ‘supplemental’ in their metadata submission process doesn’t mean it isn’t important. Don’t have time to incorporate Series, or Author Bio information into your metadata? Don’t have time to become well versed in BISAC to assign more detailed Subjects to your content? Make the time, this information drives sales.
Think about the last time you saw book three in a series and thought, “Oh! This looks good, I should get books one and two now too!” Now imagine there’s no easy way to identify books one and two because the publisher doesn’t provide you with any assistance in identifying them in the metadata, if only there was Series information or a title list in the Author Bio… Ever searched/browsed ‘General Fiction’ or ‘Literature’ in an ebookstore? In the larger stores you’ll have 10,000+ titles returned. How long would you browse through that list? Would you make it as far as titles that start with ‘D’?
- Invest in spell check /grammar check / proofreading of your metadata. You may think “Oh of course we do that already”, but do you, really? In a thorough and meaningful way?
- This may be a no brainer but must unfortunately be said… Send your final marketing art assets as soon as they are available if they aren’t sent with the metadata and content assets. While generic covers are fine in a pre-pub environment it’s a bit embarrassing weeks or months after the pub date to have a generic or no cover available. In a bookstore if you were presented with a group of books that all had covers save one that had no cover and was instead showing off its front matter which would you look at first? More importantly, which would you buy?
Good, or even great, metadata isn’t rocket science. It’s diligence and attention to detail and perhaps most of all caring and understanding that every bit and byte matters.
And if you aren’t sure where to start or what to send – ask your supply chain partners. I’m sure they’d have a lot to say, look how long I’ve gone on here about it…
Alexis Wiles is the publisher relations manager for OverDrive.