In our last meeting at the BISG Identifiers Committee, we began work on analyzing the need for a Work ID. Throughout the meeting, it became apparent that publishers and retailers have different needs in identifying what a Work is – publishers want to highlight all the editions of that Work that they publish; retailers want to emphasize all the editions of that Work that exist. For publishers who only publish some editions of that Work, calling attention to the other editions is a bit problematic. For retailers who want their customers to have the largest possible selection to choose from, narrowing the scope to those editions published by a single publisher is also problematic.
What this boils down to is the competing interests inherent in transmitting data. A publisher has one message about its books; a retailer has a different message completely…about all the books they sell. So a lot of what goes on in the world of data transmission mirrors what goes on in SEO at large – publishers manipulate metadata to their advantage; retailers do the same. Finger-pointing (“our data got garbled – that’s NOT what we sent!”) does very little good (and also the retailers don’t generally respond with anything other than specific corrections to titles, author names, prices, statuses, etc.).
If we continue to look at metadata as communication – as a fluid conversation among trading partners – the process becomes more palatable. Understanding what the trading partners’ requirements are – why does Apple need page counts for ebooks? – goes a long way towards diminishing frustration. It also helps the overall relationship. Publishers shouldn’t be afraid to ask their trading partners why they need certain fields, or why they need certain formats. A good understanding of how aggregators and retailers ingest data means publishers can send out what’s needed, reduce the need for corrections, and even educate trading partners somewhat.
I’m looking forward to the work that Brian O’Leary’s doing for BISG on tracking metadata through the supply chain. That’s going to reveal a lot.