Until a couple of years ago, we used to talk about data or the book’s technical data sheet. When registering with local ISBN agencies, publishers received the curious cataloging card, which they included in the legal and technical credits page of their books without thinking about it. Then, when the book arrived at a bookstore or a library, someone replicated that information in their system and enriched it with more data: prices, formats, synopses, other related books… Thus, the information was replicated in different ways at each point of encounter with the reader.
Nowadays, some publishers take care of providing booksellers, distributors, librarians and readers with all the information they might need, and some of these publishers go one step further: they centralize the information in a database that they update so that the rest of the interested parties have access to the same information available in the same place.
In the search for a common language among publishers, bookstores and distributors, a practical solution has been found for all: metadata is collected and standardized with ONIX standards and exported and circulated in xml format. [To see what ONIX is, read Metadata sells books].
In her article “Five Questions Publishing Leaders Need to Ask About Metadata”, Anne Kubek highlights the importance publishers and their teams should place on metadata. ONIX helps publishers create and maintain consistent, up-to-date metadata. This metadata enables bookstores to find and display titles in the most efficient and complete way, allowing them to be easily found —and purchased— by readers. As the record of publishers and booksellers is synchronized via ONIX, errors are corrected more quickly and information is kept up to date. Thus, for example, author biographies can be kept up to date, including new works, awards received and related books (especially in the case of series). Periodically, publishers should review their recent catalog and keep their title information up to date.
Despite the above benefits of ONIX, most publishers still use Excel files to manage their metadata. But no matter how comprehensive those Excel spreadsheets are, they will never replicate the richness of the xml format on which ONIX is built, which represents more than 200 fields and better matches the elaborate algorithms of bookstore search engines, thus allowing publishers to maximize their sales.
Integrating the ONIX standard into publishing workflows takes effort and planning, but it has proven value for publishers with a catalog of 50 titles or more and a publication rate of 5 or more titles per month.
With ONIX, books can be classified and this makes it easier to identify books belonging to the same category. BISAC or Thema codes are used for this purpose.
Up-to-date BISAC [and IBIC] codes enable bookstores to correctly label and display titles in their stores and on their websites. There are more than 3.000 subject codes. Drilling down to the most specific and appropriate subject codes ensures that books will be placed in the best possible category on bookstore websites. This will increase the titles’ chances of reaching higher positions among the lists and search results. “For example, let’s say there are 111,638 titles in ‘Science Fiction’ on Amazon, but only 243 have the ‘Cyberpunk about Artificial Intelligence’ category. Your title could go from being ranked #94,562 in the general category to rising to #63 in the specific category. More importantly, readers who want to read your book (or are looking for one in that genre) will be able to find it and buy it,” says Anne Kubek in an interview for Digital Book World.
For ebooks, Kubek recommends using up to four BISAC [or IBIC] codes, although fewer are used in print. It is essential to put the most representative code first to drive sales, because there are stores that only accept one code.
ONIX management can be overwhelming for publishers. To maximize efficiency and increase sales, it makes more sense to find a suitable business partner/service provider to do all or part of the process.
Assessing the editorial team’s ability to manage metadata versus using the services of a third party (either the distributor or a company specializing in metadata management systems) can be a difficult task.