Digital publishing gurus have been harping on the importance of metadata for at least a year now—but it seems a lot of publishers have been slow on the uptake of making metadata a priority.
At the first ever Metadata Perspectives conference a few weeks ago, Fran Toolan of Firebrand Technologies argued that the lack of attention paid to metadata is indicative of a continued “print mentality” in publishing that is impeding digital development. (via Publishing Perspectives)
Sourcebooks Editorial Manager Peter Lynch echoed the familiar call to “create and support a company culture centered on metadata,” and offered practical strategies for spreading metadata responsibilities throughout a company, rather than relegating the task to the production and IT departments. (via Sourcebooks)
These conversations got me thinking about my own experiences with metadata as a summer intern for a small publishing house where print was still very much king.
We did utilize an extensive title management system, but I was the primary person responsible for maintaining its data. The associate publisher would enter a title’s basic information early on in its production (title, author, series, ISBN, author bio, initial summary), and then I would do the updating as a book’s production progressed. When early reviews and blurbs came in, I selected and inputted the quotes that would be featured on the title’s Amazon page. I linked the book to previous titles by the author and competitive titles. I created generic publicity plans to satisfy distributor requirements.
I’m not trying to present myself as incapable, but when a book’s print cover is proofed by at least three people after the designer, compared to an intern generating a significant portion of a title’s metadata unproofed, there’s a statement being made about the publisher’s attitude toward digital publishing. And I would venture to guess that this attitude is not exclusive to the press where I interned.
Our lack of attention to metadata was also noticeable from the customer end. During my time with the press, we were notified (usually by the author himself or the distributor) about several errors that made it onto Amazon, including incorrect cover images, inconsistencies in titles, failure to upload descriptive information, and once even a misleading, obsolete synopsis. Many of these errors were caused by metadata that was entered at a very early stage of a book’s development and never updated. As an intern who wasn’t even at the press for a full production cycle, it was impossible for me to keep track of all the small changes in a title’s information that had occurred over the course of its publication.
Overall, suffice it to say that the management of metadata at this small press was sloppy. Some of this can be attributed to the bulky title management system that made errors easy to make—it required saving and reloading with every step, was very finicky about formatting procedures for descriptive information, allowed only one person to access it at a time, and was prone to crashing. But really, these are small obstacles to accurate, complete metadata, not barriers. If a publisher were to do as Sourcebook advises and build a “company culture” that emphasizes metadata as much as print, the metadata issues would resolve themselves.