Metadata in Publishing: An Overview

By eContent Pro on Jun 18, 2019

According to Oxford Dictionaries, ‘metadata’ is defined as "a set of data that describes and gives information about other data." Seems somewhat vague, doesn’t it? Well, in short, this “set of data” is used by photographers, videographers, programmers, and even publishers to communicate a wide variety of “other data.”

How? Frankly, it differs from field to field.

Digital photographers use metadata for tracking their photos’ visual specs, such as an individual image’s size, resolution, and creation date. Programmers use metadata on a website for strategic purposes, like optimizing a web page’s searchability.

Multimedia and HTML code aside, today the team at eContent Pro reviews the role metadata plays within the realm of publishing.

Metadata in a Nutshell

Simply put, metadata refers to key details about a book or eBook which allow distributors and retailers to easily identify what the publication is all about. These details range from simple, like page count, to excessive, like critical reviews, but all given information is chosen with care in order to benefit the book’s marketability.

While there are levels of metadata–core and enhanced–most publishers only dabble in basic, core details – those necessary to properly list and sell their book.

Core Metadata

Essential information about a publication is referred to as core metadata. This data encompasses key details distributors and retailers require to properly sell, as well as list, any book, print or electronic.

Most of this information is bibliographic in nature, including details such as the ISBN number, book title, cover graphic, author(s), price, category, territory, and language. If this basic, core data is missing or inaccurate, serious issues can arise. Just ask J.K. Rowling, who experienced two major metadata-based miscues throughout her illustrious career – select copies of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban mislabeled J.K. as “Joanne Rowling,” while 500 first edition copies of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone misspelled ‘Philosopher’ as ‘Philospher.'

Imagine trying to find a book on Amazon listed without, for example, its title. That’s why core metadata is so important for publishers and authors alike – if buyers cannot find your book, they cannot buy your book. And, in business, no sale means no profit.

Other details, like the ISBN number, help brick-and-mortar retailers track when a book sells, as well as how many copies remain in-stock. Price data, likewise, helps online retailers avoid underpricing or overpricing new releases. Territory details help libraries know when books from local authors are released so they can act accordingly.

Every bit of core metadata, no matter how mundane, serves its purpose.

Enhanced Metadata

Enhanced metadata divulges information about a publication that might push prospective buyers toward purchasing that book.

Most of this information is optional, including seemingly-excessive details, such as the book description, author bio(s), critical reviews, relevant awards, key endorsements, juicy excerpts, and keywords.

Recent studies have shown those willing to go the extra mile by making enhanced metadata available upon distribution, experience heightened sales as a result. In response, plenty of publishers have begun utilizing this data as a slick, stealthy way to edge out the competition through search engine optimization.

Let’s get down to brass tacks. If you’re interested in optimizing, let’s say, your next novel, we suggest taking a long, deep look into keywords. These phrases may not seem vastly important, but, in fact, can cause a book’s searchability to pull a complete 180.

Derek Haines experienced the effectiveness of keywords firsthand, when he noticed his spy novel was not faring so well on Amazon. He began to think outside the box and steer away from generic keyword phrases already listed on the Kindle Store. By replacing “espionage” and “spies” with “espionage and spy thrillers,” as well as adding terms like “wartime espionage,” Haines instantly enhanced his book’s searchability from “the wrong end of 1,000’s of books” to “at least the top 20 search-listed books” within its genre.

The devil is in the details, and, as it turns out, optimizing metadata–both core and enhanced–can work wonders.


So how is all this metadata stored? With bibliographic data programs like ONIX.

ONIX for Books, or ONIX (ONline Information EXchange), is a free format used to get books’ metadata into the hands of publishers, wholesalers, retailers, and beyond. Its creation stemmed from the industry’s desire to streamline distribution of rich book data between multiple parties, while still maintaining a standard file format for sharing such data – XML (eXtensible Markup Language). ONIX is not a database, but it does allow authors to store details about one or more books in an XML file. Those files, referred to as ‘ONIX messages,’ can then be passed around at will.

For brick-and-mortar retailers, metadata is printed onto book covers, but online retailers instead utilize ONIX messages, making those same details available in a text format. Message data can then be, essentially, copied and pasted into virtual listings on platforms like Amazon Books, Google Play Books, Apple iBooks, etc. Authors also have the option to incorporate unique promotional elements that cannot be made available in a traditional print format, such as audio and video.

ONIX messages can carry over 200 unique data elements, clearly defined for quick and seamless comprehension. Certain elements, like the title, author, and ISBN, are essential, while others, like reviews or awards, remain strictly optional. However, as mentioned earlier, studies show those willing to go the extra mile experience heightened sales as a result. So, when in doubt, don't be afraid to go above and beyond the status quo. Your bottom line will thank you.

How to Improve Your Metadata

Are you interested in improving your book’s metadata? Then we’d recommend running it by a professional copy editor.

Professional editing services – like English Language Copy Editing offered by eContent Pro – can help authors increase the quality and integrity of their work. Editorial services will make sure a book’s metadata, such as the author bio and book description, meet the required standard, while simultaneously addressing issues with spelling, punctuation, grammar, terminology, jargon, semantics, syntax, consistency, flow, and more.

To learn more about how eContent Pro can benefit you with publication and editorial services, from manuscript to publication, please visit

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