Metadata 101


3 min read

Metadata is a term we hear a lot about but what exactly is it? And if you work in publishing - or hope to be soon - what do you need to know? In this post we dive into the basic elements of a book's metadata.

Person picking white and red book on bookshelf

Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash

Metadata is a set of data that describes or gives information about content. ‘Meta’ means about the thing itself. In this instance it is data about data (your book).

In publishing this would include printed books, ebooks, audiobooks, digital assets such as photos and illustrations and even websites.

Think about how likely you are to buy a book online with no cover and no description. Good metadata means readers are more likely to find and to buy your books. When so much bookselling is online due to COVID-19 it is a crucial tool for publishers.

In the book industry there are some basic forms of metadata for physical and digital products.

Bibliographic data elements - this is descriptive information about the book.

It can include:

  1. The book’s title
  2. Contributors names e.g. author, illustrator or editor if it’s an academic text
  3. The subject of the book which is typically indicated by BIC and Thema codes
  4. Desciptive text such as the blurb or author note
  5. The intended audience - important if you have a children’s book and you need to include the reading age as well!
  6. Information about the physical item - is it a hardback or a paperback? What is the page count, the dimensions and the weight?

There are specific requirements for digital products. For example ebook metadata would include the specific file format such as .pdf or .epub and the file size. For fans of audiobooks the narrator is essential information.

Transactional data elements - this is information about how the book is sold

These might be:

  1. The book’s UK supplier - usually the publishers’ warehouse or a wholesaler
  2. Its current availability e.g. is it not yet published, is it in stock or out of print?
  3. The price of the book both now and future price changes- very important to retailers! Other currencies for sale in other markets can also be supplied.
  4. The type of price which could be either a recommended retail price or a wholesale price. The difference between these is the retailer's margin.
  5. Whether or not VAT is applied to the product - books are rated zero for VAT but stationery is not. This extra 20% on the price of a product can massively affect publishers’ margins.

Product rights data elements - this covers the territories where the book is allowed to be sold

Retailers need to know where they can legally buy and re-sell a product.

  1. If a publisher has UK and Commonwealth sales rights to a book then they should include the ISO country codes for these territories.
  2. Publishers can also explicitly state they do not have the right to sell the book.
  3. They can include conditions on their sale of the product for example a non-exclusive right would allow other publishers or distributors to have access to this market.
  4. There are conventional groupings of countries to make this process easier such as North American, Open Market, EU, UK and Commonwealth and World rights.

Metadata is a huge and important topic. If you want to learn more about it please check out my webinar with the Society of Young Publishers