If an Ebook Has No Metadata, Does it Exist?

*Submitted by Doug Lessing, President of Firebrand Technologies, in anticipation of July 26th’s Publishers Launch conference: Publishing in the Cloud.
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What can be more compelling when discussing Cloud computing then the very metaphysical discussion of Ebook existence?

When you’re selling Ebooks, you are selling metadata.  No longer can the content, and metadata of the book be treated separately when it’s time to sell them in the marketplace.  The truth of the matter is; Ebooks behave differently than print books, and very often the metadata is the ONLY representation of an Ebook product in the marketplace – and the only way we can find a book.  There is no physical copy of the Ebook for the customer to handle before a potential purchase or to stumble upon in a bookstore.  Sure, we have tools like search inside and sample chapters, but a reader must first discover a book to learn about it.  The metadata for an Ebook must help the customer find a book and help draw a mental picture of the book they’re about to purchase.

With print books the metadata is sent out well in advance of physical inventory and the selling of the product.  As the product is received many wholesalers, and retailers will compare the physical copy to the product information they have.  Prices tend to be much more static.  The net result: the metadata has more time to mature and be distributed throughout the supply chain.  Most publishers are still organized to support this model.

With Ebooks, it’s often that the content and metadata must be “bundled” and travel together.  If poor Ebook metadata is delivered, or no metadata is delivered at all, a publisher may discover that no Ebooks are sold.  Or worse yet, thousands of Ebooks are sold at the wrong price!  In the world of electronic products, this can happen very rapidly.

Think of the importance of Territorial Rights for an Ebook.  This is the epitome of metadata, simply because we are not constrained by the physical distribution of the product.  Now with Ebooks – unlike printed books – there are no barriers to selling that content anywhere in the world EXCEPT by the metadata provided by the publisher explicitly stating which countries it is available in and which partners have rights to sell.  Territorial rights are a great example of why the content and metadata need to travel together, because if the Ebook content is received, the retailer simply must know where they can sell it.  Quite simply, without the metadata, the Ebook doesn’t exist in the marketplace.  At Firebrand, our founder Fran Toolan coined the phrase ‘Slaying the Rights Dragon’, which is now a phrase that is a part of our daily lexicon.  We’re constantly collaborating with our publishers and trading partners; adapting our Eloquence Metadata and Content Services to confront these challenges.

Progressive publishers are beginning to see these distinctions between print and Ebooks and are refining their processes to marry their product development, metadata, and content distribution at the right time and in the right sequence.  It’s at the very crossroad of title management, metadata, and content that is most challenging,  and yet most critical to get right.  Cloud based services and software can provide the tools necessary to keep pace, allowing publishers the agility to continually expand and adapt to changes in the fast-paced marketplace.  And ironically, it’s the Cloud that enables Ebooks to exist.

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