Everything Publishers Need to Know About Book Metadata


Metadata allows search engines to properly index what is posted online, ultimately allowing users to find whatever they are looking for. When it comes to publishers, quite simply, your book metadata will allow potential readers to discover, find, and ultimately buy your titles. In this article, we take a closer look at book metadata, detailing why it is important for publishers, and how it will help generate a higher number of sales.


Descriptive metadata contains information about a website, a product, a book, or anything else you can think of. Online users click the search button an average of 6.6 billion times per day, across various search engines. To be included in these search results, it is imperative to pair whatever is being posted online with the right metadata.

What is Descriptive Metadata?

The term “metadata” was coined by scientist and business data processing professional Philip R. Bagley in 1968. There are three different types of metadata: descriptive, structural and administrative. Here, we will focus on descriptive metadata as it is key when it comes to book discoverability.

Descriptive metadata contains all of the qualitative and quantitative data about a specific item. For example, after you take a picture, your digital camera automatically generates the photo’s meta-information. Once you upload the photo on you computer, you can check this metadata by simply right-clicking on the “get info” button. A picture’s descriptive metadata will reveal information about what camera was used, including its shooting settings, and where the photo was taken.

Online, metadata is invisible to the user. So as you surf the web, you will not see the complete information corresponding to every single thing posted online. However, the metadata’s purpose is not to be read by your average user. Its utility comes in driving search engine optimization (SEO). Metadata allows search engines like Google, Bing, Yahoo, or Baidu to properly index whatever is posted online. Once indexed, a website, an image, or a book can accurately turn up in online searches. In other words, it’s the product's metadata that makes it discoverable online. What’s more, the better a product’s metadata is, the more precisely and higher up it will appear in an online query.

What is a Book Metadata?

Book metadata refers to a book’s descriptive metadata. It contains all the information pertaining to a specific title. Before the technological boom, librarians recorded a book’s data on physical catalogue cards, which allowed them to manage and keep track of the books in their inventories. These cards contained information such as the book’s title, the author’s name, the synopsis, etc. This is what we call metadata. Today, this information is stored digitally.

The rise of book e-commerce in the late 1990s, brought on a standard language of writing and sharing book metadata named ONline Information eXchange (ONIX). ONIX has allowed publishers to compile and share electronically rich product information to distributors, wholesalers, libraries and retailers. It is the most popular international standard for sharing book and e-book information. ONIX is adopted throughout supply chains in North America, Europe, Australia, and Pacific Asia.

Creating well-rounded book metadata ensures robust and nimble digital content management. Complete book metadata will include the following content:

  • Book title and subtitle
  • Series name, sets and collection
  • Author and contributor names
  • Publication date
  • Description and synopsis
  • Cover image
  • Publisher’s name and imprint
  • International Standard Book Number (ISBN)
  • Subject
  • Physical specifications
  • Supply details and prices
  • Book’s target audience
  • Excerpts
  • Reviews and quotes
  • Table of Contents
  • Territorial rights

To learn more about how to put together a complete and effective book metadata, check out our article tackling the 10 Best Practices to Enter your Metadata.

Why is Book Metadata Important?

Rigorous book metadata will increase your book’s discoverability and helps with its referencing.

From a reader’s point of view, metadata will simply help them find the book they are looking for online. It also helps books organically reach their target audiences. Let’s say a reader types in “historical romance book set in medieval England ” in a search engine. If you have published a book that falls under this genre, it is your book’s metadata that increases its chances to pop up in the reader’s search hits. The better your book’s metadata is, the higher up it will appear in the results pages.

When it comes to retailers, metadata allows booksellers to properly reference your book in order to display it on the right online or offline shelf. When receiving a book order, booksellers need not scramble together the information needed to find, display, sell and ship the title. Instead, all they need to do is input the metadata a publisher provides them with, and they will be ready. This makes the whole book chain operate seamlessly from the beginning. As a result, consistently pairing your books with their metadata leads to stronger relationships with your retailers and distributors. Additionally, the more complete your book metadata is, the more likely booksellers will actually read the titles in your catalogue. As such, retailers will be able to better sell and market your book. Your metadata represents your content, playing a key role in building your brand reputation among your fellow book professionals.

Ultimately, a complete metadata will lead to a higher number of sales. According to a Nielsen Book data study from 2016 books that have complete basic metadata paired with a cover image sell 75% more than books that do not. Also, books which are compliant on ONIX generate 95% more sales than those that are not compliant. This is a direct result of a higher ranking on online search engines, as well as a solid rapport with booksellers and online retailers.

As publishers, think of your metadata as an inexpensive marketing tool to increase your book’s discoverability for consumers, and its visibility all across the book chain. What’s more, publishers need to make sure their metadata meets the quality and standard demanded by the market, which facilitates the book exchange with their retailers and distributors. Documenting your books and creating complete metadata will allow search engines to properly index your titles from the get-go. Your books will attract an increased and targeted traffic resulting in a higher number of sales.

To find out more about how to put together a complete and efficient metadata for your book, check out our article on the best practices of writing a metadata for your book.

Franck Mandon

Franck is Head of Publishing and Original Content at Bookwitty. His responsibilities include the creation of original content strategies, as well as developing services for independent publishers. Over the course of his career, he has had 20 years of experience in the digital industry.