Dear book chain: we need to talk about metadata

The book is the result of a system of mutually essential services that we can call a chain, the productive chain of the book. Just as a neural network is dependent on the interaction of multiple chemical messengers, or neurotransmitters, which are necessary to make a synapse, the chain of the book is functional thanks to a “substance” or channel of shared information that holds its nodes together: the metadata.

During the health emergency, in particular in 2020, the book ecosystem was severely hit in an integral way due to the long periods of closure of bookstores, the last link, the most fragile and also the most essential. With the physical points of sale disabled, the temporary breakdown of this value chain, according to voices that this newspaper has collected, not only evidenced the urgency of public policies such as the extension of the single price in books or the legislation for the zero rate in the VAT for bookstores, but it exhibited the lack of that common element capable of strengthening the linkage of the publishing business in all its stations.

But how important will metadata really be in the future of this industry?

“Metadata is the linking substance,” confirms Adriana Ortega, Director of Operations at Metabooks Mx, a product of MVB, a German company with 75 years of existence dedicated to providing technological solutions for the book ecosystem and with 50 years operating a system unified metadata database in Germany, first analogically and then digitally, which has embarked on an expansion plan in recent years: in the United States and Brazil in 2017, Mexico in 2019 and the United Kingdom since last March.

In general terms, he explains, “they are everything that revolves around the book, everything that happens to it within its life cycle. There are metadata that are merely descriptive (the title, the author, the date, etc.) and others that facilitate their flow in the market, for example, the ISBN, the price or the marketing territories. Another type gives us an idea of ​​what we are going to find in a book, for example, a synopsis, the index or the notes that the critic has made. They are everything that adds value in searches, for example, the author’s photo and biography of him or if the book has won an award. With them we went from a static file to an enriched, dynamic one, which speaks more about the book from a promotional and marketing point of view”.

The interviewee recalls that when Metabooks arrived in Mexico, the technological deficiencies with which the industry operated were evident. The language between publishers and booksellers was not always the same, given that its members, especially the smaller ones, were empirically assimilating the market and developing processes as essential as cataloging and promoting their books, generally incompatible with the from other nodes. The saying goes that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link and it was due to this lack of understanding, among other factors, that there was a temporary break in the book chain during the first stage of the health emergency.

In other cultural industries, such as streaming service platforms, metadata is the communicating vessels, the blood that irrigates the success of the business; They allow the technology to be adjusted to the interests of the user and generate loyalty. With its due distances, the interviewee points out, that is the paradigm that should be fostered in the book ecosystem in Mexico.

Metabooks, he explains, provides a system that allows standardizing the information that orbits books, regardless of whether it is from the large publishers and bookstore chains or the smaller labels and points of sale. All links share the same information. “Today, publishers make their catalogs and it is only after many comings and goings to bookstores or search engines that the reader can connect with a book. And we must facilitate that journey, help readers make the decisions.”

Subtleties that give results

Metadata is not some kind of magic. The effectiveness of its correct incorporation into the book chain has been proven in other markets. According to a study conducted by Nielsen BookData in 2016 in the United States, those titles registered with the basic metadata had an average of 75% higher sales than those with incomplete data and those titles that contain related keywords, such as the topics they are about. versa a book or some related titles or authors, among others, increased their average sales by 34 percent.

“What we usually say to publishers is that you have to be metadata publishers, because so much effort and love is put into the product so that the design is perfect, so that there are no typos and it is attractive by itself, that the metadata is not they can be left out. They are the aura of that book. They must be not only correct but eye-catching, that can connect the client with the book that he is looking for”.

Putting order in the information, Ortega points out, also allows the optimization of internal processes in a publishing house or a bookstore and leads to better purchasing decisions, training for its sales force and business intelligence.

“The benefits are being seen at the industry level, from very specific things, such as the fact that the figure of the metadata manager is beginning to emerge in some companies or that there are orders that are being streamlined and bookstores that are optimizing their web stores. It all depends on the creativity of what companies want to do with the data. It is not a panacea or a quick fix, it is just a platform through which we can continue to build.”

So far, the Metabooks platform has around 50,000 titles in its Mexican catalog. However, he points out that to build the bridge between the two essential nodes of the industry, the sum of more wills is necessary: ​​“more bookstores on one side and more publishers on the other”.

What will happen to a business that does not consciously incorporate metadata?

“I can’t say it’s going to go away, but I think they are making it much harder for themselves in a sector that is already extremely difficult. And everything that can be invested in reducing that difficulty will sooner or later bring benefits,” he concludes.

More about Adriana Ortega

She has a master’s degree in Publishing from the Pompeu Fabra University, in Barcelona, ​​and a doctorate in History from the University of Paris III – Sorbonne. She did her professional internship at the Carmen Balcells Literary Agency. After settling for several years in Europe, Ortega returned to Mexico to assume the direction of Metabooks Mx Operations.

18,000 new publications each year in Mexico

  • Variation in sales of copies by channel (2019-2021)
  • Bookstores: -41%
  • Sale to schools: -50.2%
  • Self-service stores: -33.9%
  • Department stores: -59.4%
  • Internet: +96.6%
  • Book fairs: -83.2%

the market contracted

  • Sold copies:
  • 2016: 137.4 million
  • 2017: 136 million
  • 2018: 133.5 million
  • 2019: 123 million
  • 2020: 98.9 million

Download the book “Metadata for Dummies”

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