Archives for the month of: January, 2015

The Economist of January 25, 2015 has an article under this title. They are talking about the nervousness of authors and publishers in the face of new subscription services for books by the likes of Amazon, Oyster and Scribd. Apparently 4% or readers in America have tried an e-book subscription service. This may seem underwhelming, but it does of course represent a whole lot of people. The only one I’ve talked to seemed perfectly content to have paid his money without ever reading any of the offerings. I fear I might behave similarly (though no doubt with less ease about the dollars spent and unused). I just don’t trust them to have the book I want to read next, whatever that may be. I generally don’t know this till I’ve done with the current one. The Economist article concludes with the forecast that these services will probably wither on the vine. I wonder: the objection I make above will become less and less relevant as more and more titles become available. I don’t know whether they do so, but these services could also offer huge quantities of public domain material. We know from the public’s behavior that it is perfectly possible to sell people content which is available elsewhere free of charge.

The only mention in the article of Spotify in connection with books is however in the title. But be aware: books can be found on Spotify, including lots of those public domain works. Biographile provides a brief guide to the program. You can reach Spotify by clicking on one of the links which are the sub-headings in the piece. There you will need to register in order to discover just how amazingly much there is there.

Metadata describes a book’s content and format and provides the information needed to buy and sell books. Here’s a handy glossary with some important terms and organizations so you too can speak fluent Metadata! These terms are selected from the glossary of The Metadata Handbook by Thad McIlroy and Renée Register. (From Book Business Magazine, 10 Feb 2014)

Barcode – an optical machine readable representation of data. The Bookland EAN is the most widely used international barcode format for publishing and encodes the ISBN and price. The Bookland EAN barcode is required for print books by many book retailers and wholesalers and is used for automated tracking of sales information and inventory control.

BISAC Subject Headings – the North American standard for categorizing books based on topical content or genre. They help determine where physical books are shelved and are very important for online bookselling in metadata organization and search. Bookseller databases use them to create lists of titles by subject and in algorithms that suggest similar titles to readers.

Book Industry Study Group  (BISG) – an American, not-for-profit membership organization that supports the book publishing industry through the development of standards, best practices, research, and events. BookNet Canada performs a similar role in that country. BISG and BookNet Canada also administer Metadata Certification programs. These programs evaluate the quality of a publisher’s or vendor’s metadata files based on structure, content, and adherence to best practices. Compliance to industry standards is evaluated and ranked by expert advisers and results in the awarding of levels of certification that may be shared with trading partners to indicate proficiency in metadata creation and adherence to standards.

Classification – is categorization and organization based on shared qualities or characteristics. In book metadata, this involves categorizing books using defined codes or subject lists (controlled vocabularies) to describe a book’s content.

Controlled Vocabulary – a selected list of words and phrases used to reduce ambiguity and ensure consistency in description. BISAC Subject Headings, ONIX Code Lists, and Thema are examples of controlled vocabularies. Thema provides  global standards for subject heading codes and was released in April 2013. Controlled vocabularies also provide consistency in interpretation of metadata transmitted and processed electronically.  Words and phrases may also be represented by codes that further reduce error in machine interpretation. For example, the BISAC Subject Headings are also represented by codes, such as BUS090010, which has a literal translation of BUSINESS and ECONOMICS/E-Commerce/Internet Marketing. The ONIX Contributor Code A01 indicates that the contributor name provided is the author of the book. Other codes indicate, editor, illustrator, and other contributor roles. Controlled vocabularies make it more likely that someone seeking information would retrieve a relevant set of items in a search.

Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) – a broad term for the online exchange of structured data relating to commerce. EDI standards, such as EDIFACT and EDItX, were developed to carry information regarding commercial transactions but not to carry product metadata with the fullness and form suitable for public display that can be carried in ONIX. EDIFACT or EDitX are used when the information supplied is for business-to-business transactions only and will not be displayed to the public as descriptive information about a book.

EDItEUR (EDItEUR) – the international group coordinating development of the Thema and ONIX standards for books, ebooks, and serials. They provide free ONIX documentation and support for ONIX implementation. They also maintain the EDIFACT and EDItX standards used for electronic communication of business-to-business transaction information.

GTIN (Global Trade Item Number/GTIN-13) – a universal product identifier system for products that are bought and sold in the marketplace. GTINs may be 8, 12, 13, or 14 digits long. The expansion of the ISBN to thirteen digits created conformance to the GTIN-13 standard, making ISBN consistent with other non-book products. All book and serial publications sold internationally are expected to carry GTIN-13.

Identifier – a language-independent label that uniquely “names” an object within an identification scheme. Language-independent means that the identifier is a numeric or alphanumeric code (rather than a book title or a personal name, for example) that always refers to the same thing. Identification schemes define the rules for constructing the identifier, including how many characters it contains and what those characters stand for. ISBN, ISSN, ISNI, and ISTC are examples of standard, publishing industry-approved identifiers. The use of the ISBN in publishing, for example, allows accurate communication about a particular book product without needing to state the title, publisher, binding, price, and other version-specific information in every transaction. It helps ensure that the correct version of a book is delivered to the customer and that sales information is accurately captured.

Individual vendors may assign proprietary identifiers (Amazon ASINs or vendor SKUs, for example) to their products, but these are useful only within the vendors’ systems and are not internationally recognized or controlled. A proprietary product number should not take the place of an industry-approved standard identifier, although both numbers may certainly co-exist within a bookseller’s system. Identifiers that are accepted and controlled globally, such as ISBN, ISSN, ISTC, and ISNI, are recognized and interpreted across multiple systems and bookseller e-commerce sites.

International Standard Name Identifier (ISNI) – The 16-digit ISNI is an ISO (defined in the International Organization of Standards entry below) standard for the identification of “Public Identities.” ISNIs are assigned to the “Public Identities” of parties that participate in the creation, production, management, or distribution of cultural goods. The party can be a person, such as a book author, or a legal entity, such as a record label. It provides a tool for pulling together different forms of a name (such as linking pseudonyms to the appropriate identity), or to disambiguate multiple identities with the same name (John Smith, for example). Consistent use of ISNI as part of book metadata about contributor names makes it much easier for bookseller sites to correctly display all titles by the same author, even if the author’s name is identical or similar to many other author names.

International Standard Text Code (ISTC) – a numbering system to uniquely identify text-based works, was published as an ISO standard in 2009. Unlike the ISBN, the ISTC identifies a “work” rather than a “product” and allows linking together of publications with the same basic content. For example, Sense and Sensibility is a “work” that is available as many different “products” that are packaged in many formats (paperback, hardcover, ebook, etc.) by various publishers. Each of these products should have a unique ISBN but should carry the same ISTC, allowing the entire range of choices to be easily retrieved and displayed to consumers on bookseller websites.

International Standard Book Number (ISBN) – the ISO-approved global standard for identifying a book product. ISBN use facilitates commerce activities across countries and systems by providing a unique identifier that always refers to the same product. The identifier provides reliable and unambiguous machine matching to a specific version of a book for buying and selling activities. Since January 2007, all ISBNs issued conform to a 13-digit standard. The expansion increased capacity and also allowed ISBN to merge with the GTIN (Global Trade Identification Number) data structure. The GTIN family includes the UPC (Universal Product Code) that is used in creating machine-readable barcodes. The ISBN is now consistent with the international product identification system used by multiple industries to buy, sell, and track non-book products.

International Organization of Standards (ISO) – an independent, non-governmental organization founded in 1947 “to facilitate the international coordination and unification of industrial standards.” It is the largest developer of voluntary international standards, and the organization has published more than 19,000 international standards covering most aspects of technology and business. Organizational membership is made up of national standards bodies in approximately 130 countries. ISO-approved standards, such as ISBN, have been developed and tested by an expert technical committee consensus process to ensure their efficacy for international business transactions. When a standard has been ISO-approved, industries have assurance that when they provide electronic information conforming to the standard it will be consistently received and understood by business partners worldwide.

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN) – A unique 8-digit code, ISSN is the international identifier for print and electronic serial publications such as newspapers, magazines, and other continuing resource of all kinds. As opposed to stand-alone books (monographs), serials are issued on a regular basis and have the same title (The New York Times, for example) but different content. The ISSN allows all the different issues of a serial publication to be reliably tracked, retrieved, and displayed. The ISSN International Centre was created in Paris in 1976 under the terms of an agreement between UNESCO and France, the host country. The ISSN International Centre coordinates the ISSN assignment and management activities of 88 member countries.

Metadata Best Practices – A best practice is a technique or method that consistently shows superior results and that is therefore used as an industry benchmark.  Adoption of best practices is generally voluntary, but is encouraged by industries to promote efficiency and consistency in business and technology practices across multiple participants, systems, and business transactions. The North American publishing industry looks to Best Practices for Product Metadata, developed by the BISG Metadata Committee in coordination with BookNet Canada, for book metadata guidelines and recommendations.

ONIX – The ONIX family includes XML-based standards for Books, Serials, and Licensing Terms & Rights Information. ONIX for Books is the international standard intended to support computer-to-computer communication of book industry product information. EDItEUR coordinates development of ONIX standards.

Standard Address Number (SAN) – a unique seven-digit identifier signifying addresses of organizations involved in the publishing industry. SANs are used in electronic communications to accurately identify participants in commercial transactions.

Stock Keeping Unit (SKU) – a number or code used to identify each distinct product or service for sale, allowing businesses to track inventory and product availability. SKUs are often used to refer to different versions of the same product. Unlike ISBN and other nationally and internationally standardized identifiers, SKUs are usually assigned at the merchant level.

Structured Data – resides in fixed fields within a record or file. The metadata in ONIX files and records is structured data. Although data in XML files are not fixed in location like traditional database records, they are nevertheless structured because the data are tagged and can be accurately identified. In contrast, unstructured data is generally free-form text such as that found in word processing documents, web pages, and email messages.

Universal Product Code (UPC, UPC-12) – a unique numerical identifier for machine-readable encoding, currently used exclusively in barcodes. UPC is used mainly for media-music, movies, and video games, for example. ISBN is the required identifier encoded in book barcodes, but mass-market paperbacks may also carry a barcode encoded with UPC because they are commonly sold in outlets such as supermarkets, drugstores, and big-box chain stores.

XML (Extensible Mark-Up Language) – XML was designed to structure, store, and transport data electronically, whereas HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) was designed to facilitate web-based display of information. XML was designed to promote usability over the internet and is the most common tool for data transmission between applications.  For example, XML-based formats have become the default for many office productivity tools, such as Microsoft Word and Apple’s iWork. Information carried in standards created using XML format, such as ONIX, can be understood by most business partners and systems involved in publishing and bookselling.

This subject is one which makes (almost) everyone’s eyes glaze over. Yet it is of great importance. I’ve been working up a post on it on and off for a couple of years!

Discoverability is what you need: if your potential customers can’t discover your book on the web, they obviously won’t be able to buy it. Metadata are those details about your book which enable searches to find it. Porter Anderson’s Ether for Authors on Publishing Perspectives starts out with the arguments for getting an ISBN.

Renée Register provides an introduction to metadata on Publishing Perspectives, which starts out encouragingly telling you you know more about the subject than you thought you did. She is the co-author of The Metadata Handbook from which the metadata glossary in the next post is derived.

In his piece for Book Business Magazine, Bill Kasdorf tells us “To use an industrial age metaphor for what we think of as an information age concept, metadata is the oil that keeps the machinery of publishing cranking smoothly.” His essay (make sure you click through to the second page) provides all the background you’ll need to convince you that this is a task which does need to be thought about. If you follow up any of the links in this piece this is the one to read. It is long but comprehensive.

Search Engine Optimization is a second level of work in the quest for optimum discoverability. This Publishing Perspectives post of 20 March 2013 gives a few pointers.

Bill Kasdorf mentioned the development of Thema codes. Here’s a case for their adoption, from Book Business 18 February 2014.

copyright-the-internet-why-it-mattersInfographic created by Who Is Hosting This? delivered via Tech Cocktail and then via The Digital Reader.

This piece, 10 Things Everyone Gets Wrong About Intellectual Property Law from io9 also gives advice relevant to the physical world.

The Copyright Codex is a site where all your questions about copyright will be answered. Eric Adler who created it claims he did so by pirating a law book on copyright. He claims that the reuse of the original book is in itself an example of fair use because it repurposes the material. But because fair use is always and only a matter of interpretation he did in fact obtain a license from the original copyright owner.


bl_stowe_49On January 26th Erik Kwakkel reported on Twitter that his post on medieval speech bubbles was getting 5,000 visits in an hour. It is a good one. To become one of the crowd, click here. The post includes a translation of the family conversation illustrated above.

Later: On 31 January Erik Kwakkel tweets that 300,000 have checked out his post!

Buoyed by recent news of a slow down in e-book sales publishing folks are cheerily congratulating one another on having successfully seen off the threat. But hang on. We are dealing here with trends. Just because the first few days of 2015 have been very cold in New York, doesn’t mean that global climate change is a myth.

The Digital Reader brings us some Nielsen slides from Jonathan Nowell’s presentation at Digital Book World which put the story into wider context: these are shown below. Wake up guys: print is in decline. It’s been in decline for a few years already, and blips in the quarterly numbers won’t alter this. As the Digital Reader post says “Given that everyone has already been saying that ebooks are predominantly fiction and that multiple textbook startups have failed in the past few years, this comes as no surprise.”

I continue to believe that we will retain a mixed market, with some categories of book going more and more towards e-book dominance, while print will remain strong in other (more specialized and academic) areas. The recently announced acquisition of Courier by Quad Graphics is relevant in this context, however much strategic sense it makes in aligning two groups with complementary capabilities. What we all have to accept is that it isn’t always black and white; it’s always one shade of grey against another (apt given the number of impressions occasioned by that Fifty Shades of Grey over the past year or two). It’ll take years and years to get to a point where no non-de-luxe books are printed, and as the population grows all the time demand for print will doubtless hold up much longer than you might fear. But this trend is not going to reverse itself.


The Scotsman messed up on 9 January when they tweeted the news of the demolition of Craiginches Prison in Aberdeen. They tweeted “Demolition starts on prison where last man in Scotland was hanged”. Made one wonder why those lassies had become so aggressive. Were they upset that the Yes vote didn’t prevail?  Almost immediately The Scotsman sent a new tweet reheaded “Demolition starts on setting of last Scots hanging”, so they obviously recognized their error. They’ve yet to change the first line of the story though.

The Guardian reported on 23 December on Harvard research suggesting screen-reading will keep you awake. This is crazy. Reading an exciting or troubling book in any format may be enough to keep you awake, your brain racing, computing options and implications. And do we really need to suggest further barriers to reading? If your iPad keeps you awake, that’s just another few minutes you’ll be able to devote to reading the book.

Turns out the claim is slightly inaccurate anyway, in that the tests were carried out with back-lit iPads, not less glarey Kindles. Gigaom leaped in to qualify the claim. The Digital Reader was also quick to point out that reading on an iPad is not synonymous with reading an e-book, however much Apple fans might wish it so. This “news” isn’t all that new: The Digital Reader was telling us about it back in 2010.

January 13th was President’s Night at The Book Industry Guild of New York. We were addressed by Niko Pfund, President of Oxford University Press, New York. He started off by telling us that once a year he talks to recently employed staff, under the heading “25 things I wish I’d known when I was 25”. The first piece of advice Niko mentioned was “Embrace the conversation you dread”. People who work in publishing are by and large decent, and they are always eager to talk about the business they all love. So go ahead and talk to them.

It all got me thinking about what I wish I’d known when I was 25.

I suspect I was an unbearably cocky young twerp when I was 25. Although I knew I didn’t, I behaved as if I pretty much knew it all. In extenuation one might argue this was merely a defense mechanism. I wish I’d known then that it was actually no defense at all: just a transparent advertisement of my nervousness. In so far as people cared or even noticed (and that isn’t nearly as much as the young employee might fear) they saw straight through the pretense. And of course, why would you know it all after a couple of years in the business?

Probably the most important thing I might wish to have known then is: It wasn’t always like this. When you join any group you tend to assume that things have always been the way they are when you first learn about them. And because you think they have always been like that, you may conclude that they will always stay the same. This is not a fear of change: it’s a failure to recognize that change is possible, nay inevitable — indeed on-going as you sit there looking at the business. I didn’t fear change: I just never considered it as a possibility. The problem with this is that if you think the system is immutable, you will repress any impulse to suggest, even force change. And as Niko pointed out, there’s nothing publishing people like to do better than talk about publishing — so they might actually welcome fresh insight into how things might be done differently, or more probably, relish explaining why your idea won’t work.

One of the few pieces of sage advice I have uttered every now and then is “When you make a mistake, own up quickly and loudly”. I rather think I knew this by the age of 25, as I must have discovered it very early in my career at Cambridge University Press. (Actually I suspect that I really learned it at school.) If you tell everyone (your boss and upward, most importantly) “I made a horrible mistake. I did x instead of y, and as a result z happened. I am so sorry”, you will find that far from being blamed for the error, you will be sympathized with. Managers tend to be so overwhelmed by a repentant employee that their focus will be on comforting rather than reproaching. You’ll be congratulated on your honesty in owning up. This phenomenon makes the giving of that advice verge on the cynical — but I guess if you become a serial self-blamer, people may eventually see through the ploy and actually decide that reproach is the appropriate response. After all, you should want not to do things wrong!

“When you come in in the morning, look at your desk and review all the things that need to be done. Chose the one you are most reluctant to do, and do it first” — is something I have often told people. Once you’ve dealt with the unpleasantness, everything else will seem so much better; whereas if you leave the awful task undone, it’ll infect all the others and make your day a misery. However this is advice that probably wouldn’t have done me any good at 25. Back then everything on my desk was new, exciting and different. There really were no tasks I didn’t want to undertake; though it was often trying to have to adjudicate the faux-bitter disputes of the two elderly spinsters who reported to me, selling University examination papers, The University Reporter, and other University publications. But of course that sort of thing didn’t permit of delay as we all worked in a large open-plan office.

One thing you aren’t aware of at 25 is the power of the paycheck. When you are young and haven’t been on the job long, jumping ship and moving elsewhere seems an altogether anodyne idea. Indeed the uncertainty of getting by without a salary can even seem sneakily enticing. But stay a little longer and you’ll find you have an investment in the very idea of the company you work for, and an insistent need for the money they pay you. Most people start work unmarried. Having a wife and child makes your relationship to your paycheck rather different. Not that there’s anything wrong with this — it’s just a fact. But if you’re uncertain, and young, make the change. It’ll become harder and harder the longer you leave it.

Sorry I can’t find a full hand of things I wish I’d known. My first job was an ideal training for book publishing. Dealing with a wide range of things, including, almost explicitly, “everything else”, meant that I got an excellent introduction to the business both on its education and its trade sides. From minute to minute I might be discussing mathematics textbooks with a school teacher in Scotland, justifying our trade terms to a bookshop in Surrey, sorting out trouble with an order in the warehouse, arranging the sales conference, digging out an old book “lost” in the basement back-up warehouse, doing a window display for a local shop, arranging credit for a returned Book of Common Prayer, analyzing sales representatives’ reports, talking to a bookshop messenger at the trade counter, attending an educational conference or book show, outlining the advantages of this or that Bible to a drop-in customer. In addition, in those days, copies of the letters written by all my senior colleagues circulated in a big box which we were all expected to peruse. I was very lucky.

I’ve never been very excited about books signed by the author — but maybe this one would be an exception.


Sent by Brave New World, the Bookseller blog.