Mixed results

Between February and May of this year, we worked with the Book Industry Study Group (BISG) to research and assess the development and use of product metadata across the book industry supply chain.

We presented an overview of the work in May as part of BISG’s “Making Information Pay” event. The final report is now available through BISG, with differential pricing for members and non-members.

After the research part of the project concluded, we conducted a five-week field test of metadata dissemination. This field test got crowded out of the initial work, but we expected it would provide useful data on how quickly and widely changes made by data senders are reflected across the supply chain.

To do the work, we collected metadata changes from a single publisher over a four-week period. Updates were tracked for up to two weeks at ten retail sites. We selected a cross-section of categories of metadata (page count, price, subtitle, description, on-sale date, pub date and author) and used the tracking data to analyze overall results.

There was wide variation in the speed of updates. About a sixth of the possible changes were reflected within two days; a quarter of the changes we tracked were posted within five days. Almost half were not posted by the time we stopped tracking after two weeks.

There also appeared to be wide variation in the type of updates that are ultimately posted. In a relatively small sample set (n = 190), as little as 22% and as many as 94% of the changes tracked for various types of metadata showed up on retail sites within two weeks. A comparably wide range of results was seen across the ten metadata recipients.

Studying what happens when metadata is changed is a useful exercise. A small sample set may tell “what happened”, but no sample tells “why”. Understanding comes from review and discussion, not just a number.

The tracking study was part of a summary we provided at a recent metadata summit hosted by BISG and sponsored by Bowker. The discussion that followed proved helpful in explaining what contributes to some changes taking a week or more to show up. The discussion was a useful step, one that will need to take place with increasing frequency as work continues to strengthen the book industry supply chain.

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.