In an ambitious attempt to target those fuzzier (and I don’t mean cuddly) sides of publishing, this week Ben Goddard, Business Manager for Digital at Little, Brown, talks us through metadata and why it’s more than your job is worth to not know your data from your, em, data.
1) So, metadata is data about data, but is it only useful so that readers can find your book on Amazon?
Excellent, accurate, metadata is hugely important for a whole host of reasons, and it is the backbone that supports all of our digital (and online) publishing. Search optimisation is obviously a major part of this: without good metadata our titles would go undiscovered and would remain undiscoverable even if a reader had heard about them via a different route – from our excellent marketing and publicity teams for example.
It did take some time for the whole of the industry to realise just how important very high standards of metadata are for our business, but that realisation now seems to be there, and our high metadata standards have significantly helped our online business at Little, Brown.
2) Presumably clean metadata for digital/online potentially allows for more discoverability as a book can be categorised in more than one genre – where a physical book is less likely to be featured in two places in store. How has this impacted on your backlist sales?
When used sensibly, it can be helpful for a title to be listed in more than one genre, though this is not necessarily the way in which a reader will search. Something that we saw, particularly earlier on, is that with digital sales, it is a lot easier for a reader to discover – and purchase – the whole of an author’s backlist, which doesn’t necessarily happen physically.
However many of the challenges we face are not new: good marketing and publicity, great cover design, good relationships with digital partners, are as important as ever, and can help titles find a bigger readership.
3) While good metadata can increase discoverability of digital media on ebook platforms, has it allowed for a more diverse interest in your publishing as a whole?
There has been a definite shift in the way publishers and editors consider projects; an inevitable consequence of the increase in digital sales. Digital is discussed for all of our acquisitions now, and digital opportunities are considered and discussed from the outset. The last few years have allowed us to acquire in different ways, and lists such as our Piatkus Entice (romance reads) and Crime Vault – due to launch at the beginning of December – have allowed us to publish titles which may have been difficult propositions two or three years ago.
We’ve had big successes with our digital only titles, and many have since found success in physical formats as well. There are genres that are outperforming digitally, and some aren’t necessarily the ones we were expecting. We long anticipated the speedy digital uptake by Science Fiction and Fantasy readers, and programmes like short fiction imprint Orbit support the digital interest from these communities. Other genres, including almost every strand of romance, have grown digitally much quicker than we initially expected and for obvious reasons, our successful erotica list has taken off in a major way recently with titles such as Haven of Obedience and Dark Secret by Marina Anderson.
4) What have you seen in changing buyer habits since the advent of new media? Is there still loyalty to authors or increasingly are you seeing that low ebook prices, like the 20p book, are attracting new readers to old genres?
While a very low price can drive the quantity of sales of an individual title, it isn’t helpful to the perceived value of our books. 20p books are clearly unhelpful when representing the value of an author’s work to a (still relatively new) digital readership. Our author Brent Weeks posted the following interesting tweet earlier this month, which was widely retweeted:
Got an email from a “fan” outraged that a novel I’ve been working on for two years, six days a week is $13 in ebook. Enjoy your $4 coffee.
At Little, Brown we have invested significantly in resources and expertise to constantly analyse our pricing, the aim being to ensure that we are offering a fair price for our titles. While there is a vocal community who expect very low prices, I feel most readers are more reasonable when it comes to the value of books.
5) Do you need to learn a whole new skill set and a lot of techno-speak to be able to work in the metadata of a book?
From the description, to the author bio, the keywords we provide, the pricing, territories, and the additional rights permitted for each title, a number of people at L, B create our metadata before it is finally sent externally as there are so many different elements. In terms of creating content that is sent as metadata, a new skill set and technical knowledge is certainly not required, particularly with very good systems in place to help enable to supply of metadata.