On a regular basis, publishers send feeds to retailers, distributors, aggregators and other business partners they deal with. These feeds contain all essential and ancillary information about the books they have for sale. This information includes the title of the book, the names of its authors, the publisher and imprint, perhaps the names of other contributors such as illustrators or translators, and a range of other bibliographic metadata, such as identifiers (ISBNs). But they also include commercial data: the price of the book, the date it is available for sale, and perhaps sales territories and discounts. This also includes a lot of information that the recipient (who will distribute or sell the book to an end user) needs to know. In the case of physical books, the bookseller needs to know: how many copies are in a box, what the dimensions of the book are, how much it weighs, etc.
In the case of ebooks, the metadata must convey information about the type of file, its size and even the version.
It is also possible to include marketing metadata: this is what helps sell the book. Subject metadata has always been used in physical books to guide bookstores on where to place the book. In the case of ebooks, subject metadata is even more important: it is what allows users to discover books on topics that interest them. But marketing metadata can include much more, such as reviews, awards the book has won, a biography of the author, other books by the author, and other books on the same topic. There is much more metadata that can and should be included: information about accessibility features, pedagogical information for educational books, etc.
All metadata in the supply chain is tracked by publishers’ internal databases. If publishers provide different types of metadata in multiple formats, a Tower of Babel is formed. Over the years, standards have been developed to solve this problem. Standards bodies exist to establish, publish and maintain them.
ONIX (ONline Information eXchange) is a standard curated by EDItEUR, an international organization. ONIX for books is a comprehensive collection of terms and codes (and their definitions) that allows publishers to develop virtually all the information needed in the supply chain. It is a messaging format: it is not intended for publishers to throw away their databases and start over, but is the way the information in those databases should communicate with the outside world. It has been widely, almost universally, adopted around the world. ONIX is updated quarterly based on input from publishing organizations around the world.
Publishers have spent half of the last millennium refining and expanding the way they process, produce and distribute content in book form. While that work is clearly not over, the focus in this millennium has been on metadata: how to manage information about content to make it more valuable to its authors, its publishers and its consumers.
We hope this article has helped you see the enormous potential that metadata offers.
Source: Bill Kasdorf, “Welcome to the Metadata Millennium: A Complete Overview of What Metadata Can Do for Publishers,” in BookBusiness, 2021. Adapted by LivrizTeam.
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