Book publishing. And everything else.

Archive for the month “June, 2012”

Fixed It For Ya

From a long-suffering friend.


Physical therapy continues apace – twice a week I am prodded, pulled, twisted, yanked, stretched, and exercised like the Tin Man after his first oiling.

A new implement has been invented since my last go-round with rehab. It is a rolling pin. For your butt.

I wish there were a more graceful way of describing it, but no. This is what it is, and that is what it does.

Some Logic Around Search, Identifiers, and Discovery

I’ve always had a gut feeling that identifiers help in adding authority to search results. If a website about a book has an ISBN on it, chances are the ISBN is referring to the actual book. This is true of dynamically-generated product pages at online bookstores – I know from my experience at B&N. And it seems self-evident.

The mystery is that Google is a “black box” – what goes in is not always what comes out, and of course much of their algorithm is proprietary. But there are some things we know, some premises we can make, based on what Google has said themselves, paired with common sense:

  • Google prioritizes data it finds valuable
  • Valuable data is both unique and authoritative
  • Therefore data that’s associated with identifiers (which are by design unique and authoritative) has a better shot at being prioritized higher…than data that doesn’t.

This is not the stuff that’s in the <meta> tags. That stuff has been polluted by spammers and Google barely even looks at it.

It’s…microdata. Well, of a sort – microdata is actually a markup format that describes elements on a website. Elements such as

  • Reviews
  • People
  • Products
  • Recipes
  • Businesses
  • Events
  • Music

Kind of a random assortment – but those are the elements that Google is picking up in its effort to create “rich snippets” – those new data elements you see to the right of the search page when you’re looking for something.

Other formats, besides microdata, that help Google accomplish the same thing are RDFa and microformats. But Google prefers microdata, and so that’s what I’m focusing on.

These formats describe the tags that Google will pick up. But what goes IN the tags?


It’s a very vague-sounding word, but for our purposes, an ontology is just a vocabulary that everybody agrees on. Google is using the ontology created by Schema.org. Therefore, if your website uses the same ontology, chances are that “rich snippets” will result.

The important thing from my business’s perspective is that the ontologies include identifiers. Some identifiers that Google picks up are ISBN, UPC and ASIN. Web pages that are about books, with ISBNs in the <title> field, will be viewed by Google as reliable and therefore will be weighted more heavily in search.

When I say “picks up”, I am not referring to page rank. The algorithm for page rank is constantly shifting. But these identifiers do contribute to the formation of “rich snippets”, which in turn call more attention to the web page. Over time, the more attention the page gets, the more hits and links it will get. And those things determine page ranking.

So it’s not a direct relationship between identifiers and search – it’s an organic one. But without identifiers – without that assertion of uniqueness and authority – we’re not even on the road to that organic relationship. We’re condemned to the chaos of keywords.

Many, many thanks to Gary Price, whose conversation with me about these issues clarified my thinking immensely.

I Can’t Even

Today the BBC brings us the news that Richard Russo is releasing Interventions only on paper and not for sale online:

[A] collection of four volumes, [it]is a “tribute to the printed book” and would not be made available online.

The author, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 2002 with Empire Falls, said he wanted to encourage people to buy from local bookstores.

“Readers can’t survive on e-books alone,” he told the Associated Press.

“The rapid rise of e-books and online sales of printed books pose threats to bookstores, the book publishing industry and the rise of new authors,” he continued.

The idea that an author would refuse to sell his book in a certain manner – which would prevent many people from buying his book altogether – strikes me as…utterly meaningless. A waste.

Granted, the book itself (or books, rather, as it’s four volumes) is quite beautiful. There’s no question that its ideal format is in print rather than ePub.

But I think about those who cannot get hold of the print – those overseas, for example, who cannot afford the shipping fees and for whom digital reading is a great alternative because it allows for greater access to many, many books. I think of those who live in rural or underserved areas where bookstores are few and far between – not selling this book online (in any format!) deprives these readers as well.

The fact is, online is increasingly becoming an essential part of how books get bought. Russo’s love for independent bookstores is fantastic, and I would never dispute what a gorgeous phenomenon a well-run independent bookstore is. But for many, many places all over the world, it’s just that – a phenomenon. Not a reality.   These are communities who cannot sustain such a store – and railing against the reasons for this doesn’t stop it from happening. Releasing a book that can only be bought in places that don’t exist in most towns all over the world

Russo could’ve saved the paper. It’s a vanity project. Plus, the pirated version will be available shortly if it’s not already, given that most of the pirating happens inside the publishing house. If, in fact, it’s a book worth pirating. If it’s not…one has to ask why it’s being published at all.


I sit across the aisle from a designer and he’s working on logos these days. I heard him saying something about wanting to have a book in the logo, or being attached to having books in the logo. And – this was a Friday afternoon, post-ISBNhour – my brain was off and running in sundry directions all at once.

I began trying to visualize what Brian O’Leary refers to as books without containers. Which is like visualizing thought itself. What is the icon for thought? And I began thinking about other media that’s become container-less – streaming movies and music, for example.

When you see this

you know it’s a movie even if you’ve never seen actual film in your life (neither of my kids have). This image has been associated with movies for so long, you just know what it is.

Apple’s iMovie logo has gone one better – a star, like what’s on a dressing room door, and a camera. But movie cameras don’t look like that anymore.

Visual reference to music generally includes musical notation of some sort – notes, staffs – even though most of us don’t read music. Still, we’ve been trained over time to associate symbols like this

with music, even though most of us would be hard-pressed to tell you what any of them actually mean. But we do know where our music is stored, and that place looks like this:

So…books. I suspect the image of the book, regardless of how that book is actually delivered, will remain quintessentially bookish. Just as Serious Writing is frequently represented by a quill pen and inkwell. It’s funny how these images outlive their containers.

What’s Blowing My Mind Today

This, by Lorcan Dempsey: http://orweblog.oclc.org/archives/002199.html

Lorcan thinks about things in ways I can only aspire to.


First, let’s talk about the rain. There have been BEAs where we are baking like captive muffins in the glass oven that is Javits. This was not that kind of day. Limp, bedraggled, in some cases sopping wet, we dragged ourselves into Section E for pre-BEA conferences. I was attending the IDPF conference (and doing a table talk later on metadata).

It goes on tomorrow too. Today there were great presentations from Richard Nash, Liza Daly, and Liz Castro. There was a rather weird “surprise keynote” from Paul Aiken of the Author’s Guild, placed interestingly right before a demo of Google Play. Otis Chandler had some stellar graphics (I so hope these get posted somewhere).

As usual, the backchannel talk was an added dimension. Anyone not on Twitter, not following hashtags, misses out on a good deal of information.

I will be at Booth 3504. Come say hi.

An Interesting Fact to Benchmark By

There are 32 million books in print (meaning in active states of publication, either paper or digital).

That’s more than 1 for every 10 people in the US. How’re we gonna market this many books????

Time to look at this again!


This is a very spoiled bunny.

You just know all the other rabbits are looking at her and going, “You have no dignity, you SELLOUT!”

I don’t think she cares.

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