Katie Pryde, the owner of the “Spirit of Comics Retailer” Eisner Award–winning comics shop Books with Pictures in Portland, Ore., is leading an industry effort to improve the quality of comics metadata. In brief: comics retailers don’t have basic information necessary to stock and sell comics efficiently. The problem became apparent a few years ago, when the industry shifted from a single distributor (Diamond) to a trio of competitive companies. The lack of uniform metadata has made retailers’ workloads “unsustainable,” as Pryde puts it, as booksellers struggle to track sales and order new comics or products.

The retailers’ organization ComicsPRO worked for a year on the issue, and unveiled new standards, dubbed the Comet standard (for comics metadata), this February. They were designed by a committee comprising retailers, publishers, distributors, and point-of-sale coders. Getting everyone together was tough, Pryde reports, but they quickly found common ground. “I love how much everybody warmed up to each other and began sharing challenges and the solutions that they had to their challenges,” she says.

What is ComicsPRO’s aim with Comet?

At this stage, to smooth information from the customer on up: make the ordering for retailers easier, make getting the correct comics to the customer easier, make listing things online easier and more effective. The first project is making sure that the title for a product is the same everywhere that product appears, which is such a baseline need—and also is not the state of data that we have currently. Right now, we’re just cleaning and standardizing. Year two, we hope to see this implemented. Year three, I think we’ll be able to see novel uses like creating sales charts.

How is the current lack of consistent metadata hurting retailers?

Due to fracturing of distribution and the data problems that went with it, the burnout is palpable. We have so many more orders to place that overlap with each other, and they don’t always match in our databases. Not even speaking of things like incentive covers or returnability—all of these pieces that the publishers want us to have, and the publishers actually assume that we’re ordering with, but may not be reaching us, because the fields are not standardized.

Will comics be getting ISBNs?

There’s no ISBN for comics. The UPC is that unique identifier. If it’s used right, it should identify the
issue, the cover, etc. What’s new is three tiers of data in the Comet standard. The core data is basically a title, a format, a price, a UPC, and one creator. Then there’s the rest of the data that we’re accustomed
to wrapping around a product: creators, blurbs, or information. And then the top layer of data: What characters are in the book? What brand line? What genre? What’s the BISAC data? What’s the age rating? Getting BISAC data tied to single-issue comics is what I’m really looking forward to, so that we can do genre categorizations on single issues like we do for books.

Will publishers and distributors really use it?

We’ve asked all of the stakeholders to sign on to a pledge—and expect to be moving toward compliance in the next year.

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