Graham Bell: On the Importance of metadata - Part 1 #DLL15

by Kelly Neubeiser

“Metadata is the most important part of publishing. Even though it isn’t, we’ll assume this is true for this talk.”

Right from the beginning, Graham Bell was encouraging us to challenge our existing scope of publishing knowledge. In his digital lecture, Bell discussed the importance of metadata within the communication cycle of publishing.  

I’d be willing to bet a substantial amount of money that if you ask one of my classmates why they’re studying publishing, their answers would likely stem from a passion for books. I think it’s easy to get caught up in one’s adoration for the written word, and by the same token, affinity for the print process. But also I’d be willing to bet that my classmates would acknowledge the importance in understanding the relevance and impact of digital publishing strategy. Enter Bell and all things metadata.

Following his time at HarperCollins UK, Bell joined EDItEUR, a non-for-profit membership organisation dedicated to developing and promoting an internationally recognized standards infrastructure concerning product information. More specifically, the company works to develop a process for communicating all-encompassing book metadata (think ISBN, price, author, etc.) from publishers to wholesalers and retailers. I mean, I get that – who doesn’t like consistency and some good ole fashioned standardization?

The real benefit of Bell’s talk, however, was not just in identifying the importance of standardization, but acknowledging the practice within a publishing context. He achieved this by explaining the following:

  • The meaning of ‘standard’ is versatile: While standards are a way to fossilize past processes, they are also aspirational tools. Standards serve as valuable points for moving forward, encouraging the framework for future development.
  • Standards are a platform for innovation. A good rule of thumb for creating and defining standards is to constantly keep them slightly ahead of mass implementation. The idea is to find solutions to issues that may not have yet come to light.
  • Metadata is more than just definitional data about data. It’s imperative information about books that help describe, create, promote and sell the product.
  • A set of standards, such as when it’s applied to metadata, has a place in a commercial environment. Every publisher needs to provide information about its catalogue of products to a distributor, wholesaler, retailer or other supply chain partner. Because of this, there needs to be a globally accepted way for providing such information.
  • ONIX, EDItEUR’s core standard for online information exchange that streamlines the communication of metadata from publishers to trade partners. The best way to do this is through XML mark-up

Ultimately, Bell’s talk emphasized the astonishing rate at which publishing is evolving, and how industry players not only should, but must, adapt in all areas of the process. 

About the author of this article

Kelly Neubeiser is an MA Publishing student at Oxford Brookes. Prior to moving to the UK, she worked in the states as an assistant digital editor for Four Seasons Magazine. Books, films and flowers are a few of her favourite things.  Find her on Twitter or LinkedIn

Edited by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 18 Mar 2015 around 12am

Last edited: 18 03 2015