A few weeks ago The Huffington Post posted an article by James McGrath Morris called “Will eBooks Make Midlist Authors Extinct?”, a suggestion so dramatic (a.k.a Internet-friendly) that it led to much linking and re-blogging within the publishing community. The biggest difference between this article and the other “end-is-nigh” book industry predictions—a current favourite of most media—is that Morris narrows his scope to examining how the digital supply chain might effect the un-fancy, un-sexy long-tail. He argues that the midlist writers who sell enough books to sustain themselves but not enough to be considered bestselling will
But wait, don’t give up hope yet, that sweeping statement is not entirely true! Sure, browsing is different online and recommendation engines might favour bestselling authors over the lesser-known ones, but a digital tool does exist that is much more powerful and trustworthy than fickle old “serendipity”: metadata.
Here are some reasons why ebook metadata could help the midlist author:
1) It makes books discoverable. If an ebook comes hand-in-hand with rich metadata (excerpts, descriptions, author info, and carefully-chosen subject classifications and keywords groomed for SEO), potential readers will find it through web searching. In a bookstore, on the other hand, unless the bookseller happens to have an encyclopedic knowledge of every title in the store (unlikely) it’s difficult to help a customer find a book on a specific topic (ex. “teens and NASCAR”) if the subject terms or keywords aren’t in the title itself
2) It tells retailers how to promote the book. If publishers provide ebook retailers with more marketing information (something requested by Kobo’s Michael Tamblyn at BookCamp Toronto last month), titles will be promoted effectively; we can think about the “Top 10 Hair-Raising Halloween Reads”-type list as the digital equivalent of the bricks-and-mortar table display Morris mentions
3) Correct metadata can level the playing field. Every title is “face-out” online, while in bookstores they are mostly spined and only a lucky few are face-out. It’s true that customers are attracted to cover design, and this works the same online as it does in person. That means a customer browsing a list of ebooks, organized by subject, pub date, and price, will see midlist titles on equal footing as bestsellers.
Finally, here’s a real-world example of good metadata increasing ebook sales at UK retailer Foyles.co.uk, as described on The Bookseller:
E-books from Transworld and Faber are dominating the charts at Foyles, and doing so largely because of the bibliographic data provided by the publishers, the retailer claims. […] Kingsford explained these two publishers, through metadata, had provided more bibliographic information with e-books making it easier to sell them.
James McGrath Morris, “Will eBooks Make Midlist Authors Extinct?” on The Huffington Post
The Bookseller, “Faber and Transworld dominate e-book sales, says Foyles”