Selling-Books-Online-660x320A couple of weeks ago we wrote about how book metadata – the information that describes a book, from the title to the author photo to the fact that it won a literary award – is the foundation of book marketing because consumers are more likely than ever to discover books online and because booksellers increasingly rely on web-based ordering and sales tracking tools.

Today, we’ll look at the consequences of “bad” data – and how to make it good.

Bad data is a lost opportunity for sales

Bad, inconsistent, or incomplete data ultimately makes books look bad online. That’s because it can’t do the job it’s meant to do – which is to represent books properly and attractively. The offline equivalent of bad publisher metadata would be shipping a book to a bookstore without a cover, or with missing pages, or even without the right price! Crazy when you think about it that way, but not uncommon in actual practice.

A couple of years ago, Nielsen, which tracks book sales in the UK, looked at sales for the top-selling 100,000 ISBNs in Britain. Nielsen found that books with basic data and a book jacket in place sold more than twice as many copies, on average, than did those ISBNs that were missing cover images or other basic data elements.

Good data sells books

There is a tremendous opportunity to provide book buyers with an amazing experience when they are checking out your books online. A beautiful book jacket. Scintillating reviews. Award information. Excerpts. All of these elements are important to book buyers. Just think about how you assess a book in a physical store: the more points of interest, the better the case for buying it. Same goes for online – except that you can actually add more sales triggers; for example, more reviews, more award information, video, and excerpts.

So how do you produce good data?

#1: Own your data

The key to maximizing your book data is taking control of the creation, management, and distribution of your title information. To send a good quality data file, you’ll need a database where everything has a place and everything is in its place. No one knows your books better – or cares about them more – than you do, and no distributor, agent or wholesaler will be as invested in getting it right.

If you don’t have one already, your first step is to establish a database for your title information. Take the time to list your titles fully and correctly. Once you have a database in place, the information within it can be used to create ONIX files.

There are a number of tools and services available to publishers, ranging from free to inexpensive to fully commercial enterprise-level systems, which can help you manage your data and create ONIX files.

#2 Keep up to date

The second step in maximizing your book data is a no-brainer: keep it up to date. Your data changes over time, and so do the requirements of your trading partners across the supply chain, so it’s important to maintain your title information on a consistent basis. That means understanding how your information is used throughout the book trade, and adapting as industry standards evolve.

Maintain accurate title information: Your books have a lifecycle and the information about them will evolve. So, anytime a change is made to the information about your book, it needs to be made in the ONIX file so that file is as accurate as possible. Otherwise, the information in catalogues, e-commerce websites, and other websites will not be accurate – and that can affect your sales.

Adjust to changing standards: ONIX is a moving target. Standards change and develop, and you need to make sure you’re up-to-date so that your files match the needs of the people you’re sending them to.

You can always find the latest details on the standard on the Editeur website, and/or through your national supply chain agency, such as the Book Industry Study Group (BISG) in the US or BookNet Canada.

#3:  Use information you already have to sell more books

The best way to drive sales and reach the widest possible audience for your books is to include enhanced marketing data in your ONIX file. This means going beyond the basics to include the same kind of information you would include in your publisher’s catalogue.

For example:

  • A complete contributor (or author) profile including:
    o    Contributor biography
    o    Contributor Photo
    o    Contributor country code (**this indicates nationality and is the key element used to identify books by Canadian author**)
  • Rich descriptive text including:
    o    Jacket copy / descriptions
    o    Excerpts
    o    Tables of Contents
    o    Reviews or review excerpts
  • Other supporting information, such as:
    o    Prize or award nominations
    o    Prize or award winners
    o    Media mentions – such as appearance on a bestseller list

By including this in your ONIX feed you circulate it throughout the supply chain and the ever-expanding set of sales and marketing platforms for your books – where it can draw greater attention from search engines and readers alike and where it can work for you 24/7.

#3.5: Validate your data

The next thing to know is that an ONIX file is made up of XML. XML is a mark-up language with its own format and rules, and ONIX is simply an XML-based standard created for the book industry. You don’t need to be a programmer, and you don’t need to have a deep understanding of XML, to validate an ONIX file. All you need is an XML editor and a copy of your file

“An XML file is simply text – nothing very special – except that in order for XML software to read and interpret it, everything needs to be just so.”
—Tom Richardson, BookNet Canada

A simple validation process can tell you if your ONIX file works. Every company that uses your file will attempt to validate it upon receipt. If it doesn’t validate, it will most likely be sent directly back to you – or, in the worst case, the recipient will reject the file without telling you your data hasn’t been loaded. The solution is to validate your files first to avoid fixing errors later, and to make your titles visible right away.

Once you’re in the habit, creating good data gets a lot easier

There is a learning curve to giving your books the metadata advantage they deserve, but it’s a lot less onerous than having to continually chase bad, inconsistent, or incomplete data around the supply chain. After a while, it becomes automatic, and just one more way to send your books into the world with the right kind of packaging – the kind that makes your books easier to find and faster to sell.