Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Metadata, identifiers and a challenge ahead ….

Another rehash from March 28, 2007 this time a post written by Michael Healy who at the time was the Executive Director of the Book Industry Study Group. Michael has since moved on to Copyright Clearance Center but all of these issues he spoke about in 2007 remain relevant.

I am (unsurprisingly) in complete agreement with Michael’s comment in his thought-provoking piece on metadata that publishing businesses “must continue to focus on product information”. No one would seriously argue with his assertion that the quality of metadata has risen in recent years.

Several factors have influenced the improvements we have seen. International standards, notably ONIX, have been helpful to this process and many publishers, booksellers and data aggregators have adopted it to organize and communicate information in a standardized way. Practical guidance has also been made available. The Book Industry Study Group has prepared Product Metadata Best Practices, a set of voluntary guidelines that aims to help publishers improve the quality of their product information throughout the supply chain and speed the delivery of that information to the vendors’ trading partners. Innovative services from companies like Quality Solutions and Netread have also played their part.

I think also the general level of awareness in the book industry of the role product information plays in selling books has risen substantially. This has been helped by leaders like David Young at Hachette, Joe Gonnella at Barnes & Noble, and many others evangelizing on the subject for many years.

Under normal circumstances when improvements like those we have seen are made there is a danger of complacency setting in, but I see encouraging signs that this is being avoided. In many of the larger publishing houses, where investment in quality metadata has already been significant, I find abundant evidence of a commitment to raise standards even further. Many examples of high-quality data can be found outside these large houses, but I think it remains true that many smaller companies, working with fewer resources, have a lot to do raise their game. Organizations like BISG must face the challenge of how to reach these companies with clear, straightforward advice and with tools to help them deliver good metadata. We will be announcing some initiatives in this area shortly.

More work is certainly needed in the standards area and much of this is underway. A new release of ONIX is expected later this year which, among other things, will improve its handling of digital publications. An entirely new standard now under development, the International Standard Party Identifier (ISPI), will in time establish a unique identifier for authors, composers, performers and others in the creative supply chain. We are all aware of how unreliable personal names are as a means of identifying individuals, especially when we consider how many people share the same name and how many authors use pseudonyms. The adoption of a standard ID for personal and corporate names will be a big step in eliminating ambiguity when searching and in facilitating transactions such as the remittance of royalties.

RFID also appears to offer interesting opportunities. As the price of tags continues to fall we are beginning to see some large-scale adoptions in libraries, notwithstanding well-documented concerns about privacy issues. In bookselling, at least so far, the response has been more cautious. The adoption of RFID by the leading Dutch bookshop chain, BGN, has certainly stimulated interest among American booksellers but at the moment most of them appear to be waiting for more compelling cost benefits to emerge.

As we look further ahead into a future in which more fragmented content is sold, distributed and traded digitally, whether it’s cookery recipes or individual chapters from textbooks, one key question is how the industry will cope with the metadata challenge. If publishers are finding it demanding today to provide comprehensive, accurate and timely product information to support a universe of more than 3.0 million US titles and 200,000 new books a year, what happens in a market where available product is set to grow exponentially?

Michael can be reached directly at CCC.

Links: Metadata: What does it all mean

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