Why is this relevant now?
Well, CES showed us that there is a great interest in ebook readers – 23 of them debuted there, and an entire “Ebook Zone” was created. Apple is negotiating with publishers to sell content (books, magazines, newspapers) on its soon-to-appear tablet. With all these digitized books, search becomes more crucial than ever – web search is the ONLY way people are going to purchase these digital products.
Discovery/review services like NetGalley – as well as all the ecommerce sites – are heavily reliant on metadata not just for listing titles, but also for search algorithms themselves. (You’d think that would go without saying, but it doesn’t.)
Whether it’s “semantic” search or a more traditional browsing hierarchy, search technologies rest on metadata. Tags, definitions, clarifications (“when we say ‘porcelain’ we mean fine china, not toilets”) are all necessary to guide users to the information they want.
This metadata may not come in the form of the traditional ONIX feed. If a book file is marked up in XML (whether via InDesign or anything else), the title, author, BISAC and LC subject codes, price, publisher, and copyright date can all be easily derived from that book file – because those data points are defined in the file (usually in the front matter) with tags.
But just as with ONIX, what’s inside those tags has to be correct. This has a better shot at happening if the search engine is pulling from the book itself (the author name, for example, is not likely to be misspelled in the actual book).
In recently-released recommendations to the publishing industry, BIC has stated: "Publishers must retain responsibility, wherever possible and appropriate, for the metadata of the products they publish, in all formats, print and digital." Another company, Giant Chair has built its entire business around hosting a metadata platform for publishers: “When equipped with the appropriate tools, publishers are naturally the most qualified and motivated source for metadata creation and enrichment.”
Which makes sense!
Except in the real world it doesn’t quite play out that way. In my career, I’ve seen lots of publisher-generated metadata. There’s a reason why NetRead, Eloquence, and other data-scrubbing services exist. There’s a reason why Ingram, Bowker, and Baker & Taylor have departments of data editors who normalize and standardize that data. There’s a reason why librarians spend countless hours re-cataloguing titles for WorldCat. There’s a reason why BISG launched its Product Data Certification Program.
And that reason is: while publishers make the books, they continue not to pay sufficient attention to the accuracy of their data. While publishers are the definitive source of who the author is, what the list price is, what the book is about…they are not recording a lot of that information accurately. Because if they were, Fran Toolan and Greg Aden would have to find new things to do. Richard Stark would suddenly find himself with weeks and weeks of free time. Thousands of library cataloguers would be out of work. Ingram, Bowker, and B&T databases would be redundant. PDCP would not be necessary.
But good metadata IS publishers’ responsibility, fundamentally. They can outsource that responsibility, but ultimately it does all come back to the publishers. As our digital landscape explodes – as web search becomes not just one way but THE way readers find what’s next on their reading lists – metadata only becomes more important. If your sales are dipping, it’s entirely possible that readers can’t find your books. Take a look at your data. The solution is probably there.
Yesterday the AAP's Digital Working Group hosted a meeting where Phil Madans of Hachette, Angela Bole of BISG, and I talked about ISBNs and identifying digital content. This came on the heels of Mark Bide's webinar for BISG yesterday on the same subject.
We broke the topic down into three discrete parts: ISBNs and ebooks, ISBNs and chapters, and ISBNs and "chunks". I stopped the presentation after each slide so we could discuss each part before moving on to the next one. And some interesting findings emerged.
The primary objection (even more than cost - but of course these were larger publishers who can buy identifiers in bulk at a discount) to assigning an ISBN to each format of ebook is having to track the metadata on each record. Databases begin to bloat with products that are identical except for format, and managing the metadata becomes both repetitive and confusing.
Furthermore, it became apparent that publishers are not particularly using ISBNs to track royalties and sales - they are using SEVERAL fields, and the ISBN is not even necessarily the most important among them. So the ISBN International Agency's argument that the ISBN is an essential tool for tracking these things falls by the wayside.
We talked a bit about the prospect of third parties assigning ISBNs to different ebook formats - most publishers seem to just want to produce an EPUB file, assign an ISBN to that one, and then send it "into the wild" (as Bide says) for conversion and distribution. The distributors and retailers are primarily book-related and their databases are generally keyed off an ISBN, so those third parties would have to assign ISBNs to whatever formats they are distributing and selling. But the publishers at this meeting did not seem particularly worried about that prospect.
One publisher also stressed that by supporting more than one format, they're contributing to format proliferation and they would prefer very much not to do that.
However, the downside to allowing third parties to assign ISBNs to digital products on an as-needed basis becomes problematic when there are changes to the metadata. If a pub date shifts, if a price goes up, if there are corrections to author names, additions to synopses and reviews - any time you have to edit the metadata on a title, if you've got third parties with their OWN editions of that title, you can't be sure the edited/corrected metadata will reach those editions.
ISBNs and Chapters
Even less popular than the one-ISBN-per-format model is the one-ISBN-per-chapter idea. This expands the metadata bloat exponentially. At present, most publishers who are offering chapters for sale are doing so from their own websites, so ISBNs are not such an issue. However, once retailers begin offering individual chapters of books, the industry will face the same problems it does with different ebook formats. Multiplied by however many chapters are in a given book.
In addition to identification of chapters for the purposes of trading with third parties, there is the issue of tracking royalties. With textbook authors, this is problematic - many authors contribute to textbooks, and determining who wrote which chapters can be daunting. It was generally agreed that without significant market demand, identifying chapters for the purposes of trade is not a high priority.
ISBNs and "Chunks"
First there was the objection to the term "chunks". Which I agree with! It's nasty. But Anna Wintour said the same thing about the word "blog"...and look where that got her! It seems "chunk" is the term we're stuck with, and I am heartily sorry about that.
Second, everyone at the meeting pretty much agreed that this is a vastly esoteric subject and not likely to become a pressing issue anytime soon. Even Amazon does not sell sub-chapter-level content. Licensing content to third parties (such as websites) will likely mean putting together discrete digital assets into various packages, but there seems to be no trade reason right now for ISBNs to be attached to those packages. This may change as the market changes.
We ended with a "watch this space" message, and are now putting together a survey which looks at some of the assumptions behind past ISBN-use recommendations.
Using the Classified Ads format, sellers receive a 30-day ad at a fixed price. This solution enables sellers to continue to market their digital goods on eBay; however, because Classified Ad listings are a lead generation tool and do not result in transactions that go through eBay, Feedback cannot be exchanged between buyer and seller.
Peter Brantley's listserv is all over this, as is Michael Cader. It's pretty huge.
Web developers can use the Books Viewability API to quickly find out a book's viewability on Google Book Search and, in an automated fashion, embed a link to that book in Google Book Search on their own sites.
Sales of ebooks rose 36.4% over 2006. Sales of audiobooks declined by 24.1%, which I found quite surprising given the hype around audiobooks in the previous year. I'm wondering if it's because the only downloadable games in town are Overdrive (which does not have a commercial application, only one for institutions) and Audible.com (which does not have an institutional strategy, only a commercial one). MediaBay went out of business last year. It may also be due to the migration from CD audiobooks to downloadable ones - there's bound to be a dip as people learn new technologies. And, as belts tighten in this economy, it may also be that audiobooks are proving to be a luxury that consumers are deciding they can live without.
the development and execution of IT strategic processes related to the delivery of technology as well as leading teams to ensure that business goals are met through delivery of necessary IT products and services, among other duties.
Good luck, Glenn!
Cully's primary responsibilities include managing all merchandising and purchasing functions, managing BTMS, and managing Baker & Taylor's new Specialty Markets Group.
The Identification of Digital Book Content is intended to stimulate debate in the book industry about how digital book content should be identified and to encourage further work on the development and implementation of identification standards and best practices for such content.I've read the paper - it's really good and should indeed spark a lot of discussion. We'll be covering it in Identifier Committee meetings at BISAC - those who are interested should go to the BISG website and sign up for that committee. We'll be sending around a new meeting time soon (having it after the BISAC General meetings hasn't been too inspiring, frankly).
I fell for Tastebook. I uploaded all my recipes. I organized them into breads/brunch dishes, appetizers, fish, poultry, meat, pasta/rice/grains, soups and salads, desserts, and of course the ever-necessary "other stuff". I chose a cover image, a title, and placed the order: three copies shipped to me, three to my brother (Uncle Pete, of the House of Technological Wonders).
A week later, the order had weirdly cancelled itself. I placed a re-order. Suddenly, the order doubled itself. I called the helpdesk. They'd mistakenly cancelled the order, then un-did it themselves, then my re-order doubled the order. They cancelled the second order.
Two weeks later, Uncle Pete received six cookbooks and had not the foggiest idea what that was about.
Three weeks later, in several deliveries, I received six cookbooks. My account was only charged for one order.
The books themselves were gorgeous. The exact cover I'd selected. Delectable illustrations. Awesome layout. Nice paper stock, tab dividers between sections. Inside, however, were 12 pages of advertisements (masquerading as recipes from Bertolli olive oil), which I removed from each book.
Would I do it again? Probably. As a gift item to friends and family. Would I use Tastebook as a POD? No. At $35/pop, it's tough to recoup cost plus profit. But as a vanity project, a gift of my kitchen to my friends and Uncle Pete, it's a great idea.
At any rate, Don goes on to say "There are plenty of Muze personnel left". Indeed! But my question is...how much experience do they have in the particular market Muze addresses? How much institutional knowledge is left when so many of the folks who have been with the company for years have now left? What's to prevent Muze from making the same mistakes over and over again when that institutional knowledge is no longer there?
Since I left in November 2006, the company has been gutted. I'm sure many wonderful people have come in to replace those who have left or been laid off, but that kind of turnover has a profound effect on a place. It's not a question of moving bodies and minds around - when turnover is that high, there's a sacrifice in the organic growth and cohesion of a company. And I wonder if Muze can make up for that.
Muze has amazed me before. It began in 1990 (or thereabouts) in a warehouse in Williamsburg. I came on board in 1995, at the tail end of the warehouse phase - wires and cables draped from ceiling to floor; running the copy machine too long would blow a fuse that would take out the entire video department; it was a bizarre combination of old and new that was right out of a Terry Gilliam movie. In that environment, we played and learned and developed amazing applications. Moving to Soho in 1996, the Skunkworks mindset continued. It was a place of extraordinary inventiveness.
And yet...it wasn't sustainable. Through massive mismanagement, Muze lost several dozen people, many of whom flocked to Barnes & Noble.com. (I was one of them - I went in 1998.) The mismanagement continued - we'd hear things about one disasterous CEO after another. When I returned in 2006, it seemed that things had stabilized...but this was deceptive, obviously.
No one running the company has ever known quite what to do with it. It is such a promising enterprise - and it attracts extremely gifted people - but every single CEO it's had has wanted to turn it into something it isn't. This last round...turning it into a company that distributes actual content instead of simply catalog metadata and sound samples...was particularly ill-thought-out. Acquiring the Loudeye assets was a mistake. It diverted the company from its core business. Muze, I think, is not a company to be transformed. It's a company that needs to make the best of what it's got - and it's got quite a lot.
I'm interested in what Peter Krause and Paul Parreira at Tactic Company are going to do - I believe they have taken the best in what Muze has to offer (editorial and data creation) and are making a business of it.
"It is not that big of a cut," said Ho, who declined to disclose the number of employees at the company....Ho said the company is "right sizing" the digital media delivery group, which is based in Seattle.
Ho added (rather ominously) that in terms of severance packages, the laid-off employees were "taken care of". When Muze laid me off (at Thanksgiving of last year), I was taken care of, too - with a whole two weeks' severance.
Predicting that Muze strips the company of its assets and sells them off, and folds like a Japanese fan.
It's not hard to see how Kindle will take off. Business travelers, I predict, will be the first to embrace it. Having a device with multiple books, newspapers, magazines, and blogs to travel with, which also has a long battery life, beats wrangling a laptop, magazines, and papers in an airline seat. The next market will be university students, undergrad and grad. With such a nifty application and the tension over ridiculously high prices for textbooks, going digital is a brainy way to deliver textbooks to an audience that is already used to digital consumption.
Again I say, when I see it on the F train, I'll know it's getting somewhere.
Let us forget for a moment that Wal-Mart's online music store is a joke. When Wal-Mart tells content publishers to jump, they don't ask how high: they just do it.
So the idea of comfortably reading on a laptop with this technology appears to be still some ways off....We can add that to our list of "dream features" for a laptop/ebook-reader, then!
I do wonder, when the human race moved from papyrus scrolls to bound books, if anyone complained about having to turn pages instead of rolling them.
Amazon's Digital Text Platform is in beta, but it's an . Anyone can sign up. Anyone can be published. In fact, the only requirements to get an item listed on Kindle are a title, an author's name, and of course, content.Indeed. It disturbed me a bit that (a) it wasn't necessary for the ebook to have an ISBN (b) it didn't conform to the IDPF's .epub standard. And yet, if history is any guide, Amazon will set the de facto standard and all that .epub work will kind of fall by the wayside....
I wrote a cheesy coming-of-age novel called during my undergraduate days. It's not my best work. It might be my worst. I've let two people read it. OK, I've suckered two people into reading it. I had it lying around on my hard drive in MS Word, so I figured I'd serve it to Amazon's service as a guinea pig.
In seconds, Amazon chewed it up and spit it back out in Kindle's HTML-coded format. All that was left was to price the puppy, from $0.25 to $200. I chose the low end of that scale and clicked the Publish button.
Several hours later, it was up on the site, complete with an Amazon-assigned ASIN code. That was too easy.
However - and this is crucial - so many more people are doing self-publishing these days that this capability to upload and download and distribute your own titles is pretty amazing. I mean, just load your book up on Amazon for anyone to find in their web search. Jaw-dropping!
Meanwhile, Mike Pegan, former director of sales for Muze, is now back at AMG.
1. No ability to buy paper goods from Amazon through Kindle.
2. Usability sucks. They didn’t think about how people would hold this device.
3. UI sucks. Menus? Did they hire some out-of-work Microsoft employees?
4. No ability to send electronic goods to anyone else. I know Mike Arrington has one. I wanted to send him a gift through this of Alan Greenspan’s new book. I couldn’t. That’s lame.
5. No social network. Why don’t I have a list of all my friends who also have Kindles and let them see what I’m reading?
6. No touch screen. The iPhone has taught everyone that I’ve shown this to that screens are meant to be touched. Yet we’re stuck with a silly navigation system because the screen isn’t touchable.
And this curmudgeonly observation:
"Whoever designed this should be fired and the team should start over."
The conventional wisdom is that when the economy is down, book sales go up at holiday time, because books are a classy yet relatively inexpensive gift. This has been proven wrong in holidays past, however, so we'll just have to hang on and see where the current takes us....
1. Content you currently read for free on your laptop, such as blogs and newspapers, you have to pay a subscription fee for on the Kindle.
2. It does not support PDF files, the de facto standard for documents.
3. It is ugly. It is, in fact, fugly.
4. The so-called "free" wireless subscription is actually subsidized by content subscriptions (see #1).
5. It doesn't do anything else. It's a dedicated reader and does not play video, MP3 files, download email (only attachments), or call your boyfriend to tell him you're running late. You can't even text your boyfriend from the Kindle. Or anyone else. (What if you want to pass along a quote from a book?)
It strikes me that smaller laptops will most likely be the reading device of choice, if we continue to go down this road. It also strikes me that we're developing a technology and then fishing around for a market for it - for the vast majority of us, books and magazines are just fine. Shoving ebook readers down our throats at a $400 price point (plus the cost of subscribing to content that is otherwise available for free) is...in the words of my 14-year-old..."teh crazy".
Following is a link roundup for Kindle, but I have to say that when Publisher's Lunch hit my inbox, I was sort of taken aback at this quote from OUP's Evan Schnittman:
The risk here isn’t just to Amazon. If Kindle fails, the ebook is over, the theory of the “iPod model” is wrong for eBooks, and publishing must face the reality that consumers just don’t want to read immersive content on electronic screens of any sort…
You know what? No. I just don't believe it's as drastic as all that. We've been living with books for 500 years, people! To expect us to wake up one day and start reading them on screens - or it's all over, we'll NEVER read them on screens - is a little much. The comparisons/expectations regarding the music business are just not apt here - in listening to music, we've been accustomed to changing devices every generation or so - from wax cylinders to wax records to vinyl to 8 tracks to cassettes to CDs to MP3s - and the history of listening to personal music (as opposed to the history of reading, for God's sake) is a lot shorter. Innovation is expected there. But the runway for changing reading formats is a lot longer. Longer than any of us can see. To say it's now or never is...hysteria.
Which means, of course, that Bezos wins, in terms of whipping some of us up into a frenzy.
- QWERTY keyboard (for making annotations)
- Proprietary wireless service (for easy downloads)
- 10.3 ounces
- Paper-like screen
- Built-in dictionary and access to Wikipedia
According to the press release:
"While we’ve created a lot of value, I’ve always believed our complexity and many mouthfuls of sentences to explain who we are and what our strategy is have hampered clarity and understanding with all our constituencies, particularly investors,” Mr. Diller, IAC’s chairman and chief executive, said in a statement.
Coincidentally, Audible launched a program this year to clean up its metadata, which in turn improved the search functionality. Perhaps customers are actually finding what they're looking for and...buying!
(Can you hear me, iTunes? I'm talking to you.)