There is one precious week in early August when a small lull in the marketing schedule occurs. The fall books are heading off to press, the launch dates are booked, and we have a bit of time before jumping into publicity mode. This year, rather than lounging at the lake like my saner colleagues, I spent this quiet time wading through our metadata. Twenty-eight Excel sheets of it, to be exact.
Metadata, for all you book lovers out there, is the electronic bibliographic record of our books. When you Google a title, the information you get back is metadata. When you search a library catalogue, that’s metadata you’re looking at. When you ask the helpful clerk at your local bookstore to see if they have your favourite book in stock, you’re asking for metadata. It is the backbone of the publishing industry, the electronic skeleton that shapes a book’s existence in the digital universe.
Publishers create metadata. Long before the edits are done or the pages are proofed, the digital record of the book is created and disseminated to vendors and data aggregators like search engines, library wholesalers, and bookstores. Everything from the book title to page numbers, international pricing and sales territories, even interview clips and author photos is included in metadata. Each book’s metadata contains a ton of information and keeping it all current and together on the internet is crucial for a number of reasons.
Bookselling is largely automated. About ten years ago, the major booksellers switched to an electronic ordering system. Individual buyers were still choosing which titles to stock, but the ordering, invoicing, and processing became automated. Today, in some of the larger warehouses, even the packing and shipping is entirely automated.
Books are sold in seasons. Just like the fashion industry, books are pre-sold six to eight months prior to publication. Our sales reps are out in April selling the fall line of books so that buyers have enough time to make their orders and get books shipped and stocked in time for the holiday gift season. More than 53 million books were bought and sold in Canada in the last year alone. Metadata helps keeps track of it all.
Even paperbacks are digital. Regardless of whether or not a book is published as an e-book, the print book has to exist in digital form if it is to be discovered. Metadata allows the guts of our books to be fully searchable from pretty much anywhere, and that is a beautiful thing.
As a scholarly publisher, we’re in the business of getting research into the hands of interested readers. Metadata allows us to do that faster, easier, and more effectively than ever before.