Scares me a bit.

So when I spotted a chance to learn, I dived right in.

I’ve just attended a webinar hosted by the Bookseller, in association with BIC (Book Industry Communication), sponsored by Virtusales. Speakers included Karina Luke (BIC), Azar Hussain (Faber and Faber), James Lovett and Toby Gill (Virtusales) and Uma Chandron (Kobo). The event was moderated by Tom Tivnan (Bookseller).

Below is my take, as an indie author, as to how metadata can work for – not against – me. These are my words, but my aim is to share their message.


What is Metadata?

According to Karina Luke, it’s simple. The BIC Basic Standard of metadata is your sales rep – how customers find you, whether customers buy you – this is the place where every vital detail of your product is stored. Your metadata is the best sort of salesperson, who knows every last detail and can make it sound irresistible.

  • ISBN
  • Title
  • Product form
  • Main subject category
  • Imprint name
  • Publication date
  • Cover image
  • At least one supplier name
  • Availability status
  • Retail price including VAT
  • Statement of rights relating to territories

And, of course, the blurb: the description of the book is the salesperson’s spiel.

Karina said that metadata used to be the domain of the geek – no longer. Now we all need to improve, update and ensure our metadata is accurate. The alternative is losing sales. And the proof – Nielsen BookScan Research and White Paper on Metadata provides conclusive data.


Next up, Azar Hussain (Information Manager at Faber and Faber) quoted Clay Shirky

There is no such thing as information overload, only filter failure.

Metadata is nothing more than accurate descriptive information. Metadata is the answer to the readers’ questions – what’s it about, when’s it out, where can I buy it?

In the olden days … like ten years ago, library searches for books meant trawling static data. Now we can update constantly, target to groups, take short-term advantages of interest spikes and alter data to align with trends.

Hussain gave a surprising statistic – if all the missing metadata were added in the US book market, sales would increase by 3.2%. Or $400m, if you want to be precise.

Toby Gill and James Lovett (Virtusales) gave an excellent overview of what a system can do for a publisher. But I’m not quite at the publishing house stage yet. Two tips I picked up – own your data (make sure it’s accurate) and always update.

Uma Chandron of Kobo, looked at metadata with a retailer’s eye. She offered seven tips:

  1. Show respect. Metadata matters to the reader – get it right
  2. Maximise your data – use tags, add series codes, lead the reader to more
  3. Know your rights per territory. Where can Kobo sell on your behalf?
  4. Know your territory pricing. Eg: books cost more in Australia – so calculating your GBP price in AUD is underselling.
  5. Be explicit. If you want Kobo to do the work, converting for territories, tell them. Make permissions clear.
  6. Understand the tax in/tax out situation. For example, in GBP/Euro, customers don’t expect to pay extra tax on the advertised price, where they do in US/Canada.
  7. Practise active pricing. Watch what works. Observe trends and adjust your metadata daily

So what IS metadata?

Your single version of truth – about your book(s).

Sort it out.