We’re seeing numerous reports from across the country of bookstore closures. The hit on retail book sales is already severe. My best wishes to all of those whose well being in impacted by the coronavirus crisis. It looks like we are going to be hunkering down for a long time.
I could write a melancholy column, but that’s not going to benefit anyone. Isn’t there any lightness to be found?
It’s said that every crisis is an opportunity in disguise. Let’s hope so. How about this upside: with so many people working from home, it’s going to free up some reading time, both for adults and for youngsters (whether they’re in school or not).
If you can’t go to a bookstore, and with delivery services cutting back, the best way to satisfy your reading fix is e-books and audiobooks bought or borrowed online. So how do you make sure that readers are finding your company’s books during this time of opportunity—and not your competitor’s? It seems obvious to me: improve your metadata.
While this is clearly not a time for frivolity, I want to recommend a game that publishing staff can play from home. A metadata game. I call it SUM. That stands for Sales Uptick from (Improved) Metadata. Here’s a short description: SUM pits publishing personnel against one another to see who can figure out which metadata enhancements have the largest impact on a book’s online sales.
The objective is twofold. On the one hand, the game encourages players to experiment with various enhancements to their company’s existing metadata, with results that can be measured. On the other hand, it challenges everyone in that company to learn more about metadata and to better understand its power to increase sales.
Here’s how you play the game.
1. You only need two players, but there can just as easily be 22, and they can be from any department. One of the objectives of the game is teaching an appreciation of metadata to people who think it doesn’t concern them or their department. Everyone in a publishing company should have a basic appreciation of how metadata functions. Maybe playing this game could be a good way to learn.
2. You don’t need to be a metadata wizard to play. It’s enough to have a handle on the basics: BISAC categories, keywords—if you know what these things are, you can play.
3. On the other hand, you’re not going to win if you don’t understand the dynamics of title listings on Amazon. Most people aren’t aware that Amazon supports up to twice as many metadata fields as its competitors. If you know where all of that title information comes from via your internal title management system, you’re on your way. For example, do you know that reviews shouldn’t be included in the main title description (there’s a separate field for them)? Or that Amazon accepts both excerpts and tables of contents as distinct data? Or that you can add emphatic formatting to the main book description field (such as bold, italics, and bulleted lists)?
If you’re not confident that you’ve got a handle on how Amazon records and displays title information, buy a copy of Ingram’s Metadata Essentials: Proven Techniques for Book Marketing and Discovery. It’s the best book available outlining the strategic side of metadata.
4. Each player chooses three or more books that they will “own” for the duration of the competition. These books should be solid backlist titles, at least a year old, and they need to have relatively steady sales month to month. They don’t have to have big sales numbers—even two or three copies a month is fine. But you need to have a baseline to judge against; you want to find steady sales, so that you can reliably measure the sales change over time.
5. Each contestant is in charge of sizing up the existing metadata for each of their chosen titles and coming up with a strategy to enhance it. At the most basic level, it might be just experimenting with different BISAC categories or playing with the keywords. Advanced players will find themselves rewriting book descriptions and carefully choosing short excerpts. They might even tackle one of the toughest metadata challenges: getting additional reader reviews for a book without breaking Amazon’s conflict of interest rules.
6. After 90–120 days, the sales level of each title is again measured. The contestant who has scored the highest percentage sales improvement is the winner. The goal is to goose the percentage regardless of the initial baseline.
7. The winner gets a fun prize—maybe a bottle of champagne, or perhaps a new top-of-the-line e-reader or tablet.
Voila! A distraction with a built-in reward. A work-from-home contest that’s focused on increasing online sales, the #1 challenge publishers face today.
Thad McIlroy is an electronic publishing analyst and author based on the West Coast and at his website, The Future of Publishing. He is a founding partner of Publishing Technology Partners.