Metadata - banishing the dragons

Opinion - Publishing Thursday, 1st November 2018

Book Industry Communication (BIC) reports on the benefits of the BIC Metadata Map

Ever wondered why that glowing review from Broadsheet X doesn't show in your book's listing on Why the US publisher is issuing rights infringement claims against your edition? Why says your book is "Unavailable" when there are 1,000 copies in your warehouse? The BIC metadata map may be able to help with these and many other metadata questions.

Throughout history, maps have been drawn to help make sense of our surroundings, enable better communication, safer, more reliable journeys and improved trading between people. However, early mapmakers often filled gaps in their knowledge with subjective beliefs, hearsay and imagination ("Here be dragons!"), and it was only by repeated surveys and good objective observations by explorers that trustworthy maps began to emerge and could be used effectively by travellers and traders.

The BIC Metadata Sub-Committee recognised that a similar lack of objective knowledge of the routes that product metadata takes could lead to poor decision-making by both data suppliers and recipients, and bad consumer experiences. Each organisation may have accrued its own set of beliefs, but none of us can appreciate all the routes that metadata takes to its points of use, nor all the potential pitfalls and diversions along the way. If we all had a better understanding of our metadata "world", we might use the data in the supply chain more effectively.

Full disclosure, full visability
The challenge was to create a Map that could show what product metadata is being created by whom, how it is passed from one organisation to another (and possibly changed in the process), and what recipient organisations do with the data they receive. BIC believes the most effective approach to surveying these questions is to collect responses from all willing supply chain participants, and then aggregate and present the details in a searchable resource - the Metadata Map itself. The Map will be published as an online, constantly updated resource that will only be accessible to Map contributors - full disclosure allows full visibility.

The challenge is not insignificant (Best Practice plus Wikipedia plus CityMapper for metadata), but we expect the Map to provide practical, real-world data so that contributing organisations can benchmark their own metadata activity and identify potential improvements to their data supply, ingest or maintenance activities.

To take a concrete example, publishers have lots of information about their authors: real names, pseudonyms, biographies, links to other works by the same author(s) and so on. A better understanding of how (or whether!) that information is passed on by data intermediaries, and how it is used by online booksellers, should lead to better author data being made available by data suppliers - data which could be better trusted by recipients, data which should lead to better discoverability, better linking of multiple products to the correct authors, and ultimately to increased sales and author, agent and customer satisfaction.

Pioneer triallers
The project was launched officially at the London Book Fair this year, and we have since developed a set of extensive survey questions that are being trialled by a "Pioneer" group of selected book trade organisations from the UK. We appreciate the investment of time and resources by these companies to provide an honest appraisal of capabilities and processes, and the level of detail required. The Map cannot provide detailed answers unless it collects detailed survey data in the first place.

Nevertheless, we recognise that, like all good maps (as we firmly believe ours will become!), our own Map is a work in progress: we do not expect to cover the topography of the metadata supply environment in complete detail at the first attempt, nor can we start "drawing the Map" until we have objectively collated the survey data provided by the Pioneer group.

Once our Pioneer group survey is complete we will seek contributions from the wider BIC membership, since it is the BIC membership which is funding this project, and later from all those organisations who are willing to take part. Our goal is to enable organisations to improve their metadata behaviour through comparison to the Map and, as a result, raise the standard of data use throughout the metadata supply chain. We fully expect the Map to inform BIC's agenda over the next few years - let's hope we don't find too many dragons!

BDS - Eric Green
Bertrams - John Garrould
BIC - Karina Urquhart
EDItEUR - Graham Bell
Faber and Faber - Azar Hussain
HarperCollins - John Bell
Gardners - Simon Pallant
Thames & Hudson - Andy
Nielsen - Howard Willows

There are a number of useful resources on the BIC website ( including monthly project updates and the Terms of Reference for Contributors.

BIC ( is an independent, not for profit members' organisation working to promote supply chain efficiency in all sectors of the book world through e-commerce, best practice, training, events and the application of standard processes and procedures.

This article first appeared in the Publishers Weekly/BookBrunch Frankfurt Show Daily.

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