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Category: Distribution

Book Metadata, ONIX, and Digital Asset Management (DAM) systems

Posted in Distribution, and Just for Writers

Book Metadata

Maintaining the metadata for your books can be quite a chore. Joel Friedlander's overview covers some of the basics.

It takes me two pages of my multi-page management spreadsheet to hold the simple columnar data (ISBNs, Library of Congress (LoC) numbers, publication dates, page counts, etc.) and textual data (blurbs in various lengths, keywords, BISAC codes, etc.). Some of that data is static, but parts of it are changeable based on marketing experiments, temporary sales, and so forth.

When we go to a distributor site that caters to indies, we are usually presented with a form to fill out for each book. Since I strive for consistency, I always have to open up the form for a book I've already posted to that distributor, to make sure I fill out all the questions the same way across all my titles.

How do the big boys handle this?

Well, that's a question, isn't it? It's hard to get the details. The big traditional publishers have complex internal needs (moving a title from acquisition through edit, formatting, marketing, publication) involving different departments and requirements, and their management systems are crafted with that in mind to give them a shareable single complex record for the title that holds both in-house private data and public data intended for use with their trading partners (distributors, retailers, etc.)

The output of their systems these days tends to be in the form of ONIX records (see below) — this much I know. But exactly how they share those records with their partners is obscure to me. (Alas, trad-published authors who've added indie-publishing share insights with us, but we don't meet a lot of back-office technical types from the traditional publishing firms.) You can see how vague the specific details are for an overview on metadata maintenance that's meant to be helpful, or for a discussion about refreshing metadata as things change.

The big traditional publishers have much more complicated problems. As indies or micro-publishers, we get to choose what we want to deal with, and some of the industry tools are available for us to use, if we think it's important enough.

Checking up on book distributors

Posted in Distribution, and Just for Writers

So, you've gone wide and international with your ebook distribution, and your print edition is in Ingram's database, making it available to a fair chunk of the world's bookstores, both physical and online. Your dashboards that list your titles with your various distributors all look fine and dandy. You given them your books, and they're making sure they're getting into the world's bookstores.

Time to sit back, proud of your books' availability in online stores all over the world, right?

If only it were that simple.

How are my distributors doing?

It’s not easy to figure that out.

I've been trying to sort out my various distribution options recently as I retire a couple of distributors and take on new ones. It's a confusing area, and the lists you can get of their channel partners are not always current or complete. I was focused on who had the best reach, or reached unique retailers, with reasonable returns and the ability to turn channels on and off to avoid duplication.

I get to retailers in a variety of ways.

Ebooks

  • Direct from my website (ecommerce). Gumroad (in several formats).
  • Direct upload. Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble. If I could (no Mac), this would include Apple iBooks.
  • Hybrid (storefront & distribution). Smashwords.
  • Distributor. PublishDrive, Streetlib (coming soon).

Of these, I use PublishDrive to reach every channel (including Apple iBooks and Google Play) that I don't go to directly. I restrict Smashwords to its storefront and its unique partners only. PublishDrive, Streetlib, and Smashwords all let you select or disable individual partner channels to avoid overlap.

Already there are complications — Kobo is also a distributor, so though I go there directly, it distributes my titles to its own partners. There is no ability to pick and choose among Kobo's partners, so it's up to me to avoid enabling one of Kobo's partners at one of my other distributors. (Perhaps that can be controlled at the manual level, via email requests to Kobo, but I prefer something more automated and reliable.)

Other complications — I have to manually request special retail pricing for Google Play, to keep its automated discounting from creating a problem with Amazon. Hard to find distributors that will let you set per-channel pricing, but I think that must be essential to adjust pricing in different parts of the world (like India).

Audio

  • Distributor. AuthorsRepublic.
  • Direct upload. CD Baby (coming soon).

Print

  • Hybrid (storefront & limited distribution). Createspace. (Not expanded distribution.)
  • Distributor. Ingram LSI.

Createspace only distributes to Amazon so there are no channels to disable to avoid duplication. Ingram can't provide a list of print partners — much too broad, and much of its reach is through intermediate distributors or aggregators. No telling where your books will end up at online retailers.

Where are your books, really?

I began by taking the lists of known channel partners from PublishDrive, Smashwords, Kobo, and AuthorsRepublic. I then went to each of those sites and tried to find my books there. That alone was an eye-opener.

What happens to my metadata when it leaves the house?

Posted in Distribution, Just for Writers, and Publishing

That's the title of an excellent if brief essay by Laura Dawson of Numerical Gurus. Her site is an excellent resource for the explanations and history of some of the acronyms that haunt the world of books.

Since I seem to be on a kick lately with what metadata exists and how it sloshes around through the book ecosystem, I thought we could all benefit.

How many of those girls are properly dressed (um, properly formatted data)? And how can you keep them clean, out there in the big ol' world? Where there are boys, and parties, and fast cars, and lots of dark alleys to wander into.

We've all seen it. We spend time perfecting the metadata in our feeds, send it out to our trading partners, and had to take complaints from agents, authors, and editors. “Why is it like that on Amazon?”

The truth is, data ingestion happens on whatever schedule a given organization has decided to adhere to. Proprietary data gets added. Not all the data you send gets used. Data points get mapped. So what appears on any trading partner's system may well differ somewhat from what you’ve sent out. There are so many different players in the metadata arena that can affect what a book record looks like. When you send your information to Bowker, they add proprietary categories, massage author and series names, add their own descriptions, append reviews from sources they license – and send out THAT information to retailers and libraries. The same thing happens at Ingram, at Baker & Taylor – so what appears on a book product page is a mishmash of data from a wide variety of sources, not just you.

What does your book look like to booksellers?

Posted in Distribution, Just for Writers, and Publishing

Print on Demand (POD) (versus short-run print jobs) is the typical method used initially by indie authors, and the two big providers are Createspace (owned by Amazon) and Ingram, either via Ingram LSI (Lightning Source) or IngramSpark.

The merits of Createspace vs Ingram is a common discussion topic among indie authors who produce paperback editions. This post is an update of this analysis and focuses on what your books look like to booksellers placing orders with Ingram.

The recommended practice these days is to use both vendors for print, if you can: Createspace (without their expanded distribution option) for Amazon, for inexpensive orders for inventory, for an online store, and for direct shipping; and Ingram for everything else. (The recent news about availability of print from Amazon KDP seems to signal that access to Createspace directly might change.)

Some authors create a separate Library edition, just to use that part of Createspace's expanded distribution with a Createspace ISBN.

If you don't want to go to the bother (and the expense) of getting your own ISBN (a whole separate discussion) Createspace will supply you with an ISBN owned by Createspace for you to use, for free. (If you have an ISBN, you can use your own.)

Since the common progression for indies seems to be to start with Createspace only, and Createspace has an expanded distribution option and a free ISBN that gets your books into Ingram (“Booksellers and Online Retailers”), the question often comes up: why bother going to Ingram directly?

Why go to Ingram directly, in addition to Createspace?

The manufactured products are slightly different (quality issues with a small and debatable preference given to Ingram), and unlike Createspace, the Ingram edition costs money: a title setup fee (circa $49), an annual market fee (to stay listed in Ingram's database) ($12), and a revision fee for any change in cover or content ($40 each). The fee details vary a bit between Ingram LSI (mostly for traditional publishers) and IngramSpark (mostly for indies) and coupons/discounts are not infrequently available.

And you need your own ISBN, a not-inconsiderable expense in the US.

But there are other concerns.

Bookseller-specific issues

1) Discounts

A bookstore with good credit and broad needs may use Ingram as its main supplier. Other bookstores use smaller, more targeted suppliers who get their list of offerings from Ingram (and charge a fee).

Ingram allows you to set the same standard discount that traditional publishers use: 55%. Createspace's maximum is 40%.

Here's what that means. Ingram takes 15% of that discount for its services. It subtracts that from the books you list directly with Ingram, but it also subtracts that from the books it lists that were given to it by Createspce via expanded distribution.

So at 55% (Ingram's standard), minus Ingram's 15%, there remains 40%. Some of that may go to an intermediate distributor. Whatever's left over is the bookseller's potential profit, which he may discount to push sales.

At 40% (Createspace's max), once you subtract Ingram's fee of 15%, all that's left is 25% for the intermediate distributor(s) and bookseller to share. That is unattractive to many booksellers. Some won't even order books to fulfill customer requests at that small a profit to themselves.

2) Free ISBN / Publisher name

Createspace offers its own ISBN, if you don't have or want to use one of your own.

The general rule is: whoever owns the ISBN is the Publisher, from the perspective of forms and databases. Some recent forms have separated the two things, so that the owner of the ISBN and the “Publisher of record” and the provider of the data feed on a form can be different things, but that is far from general.

For a while, the Createspace data downstream showed Publisher = Createspace, even if you used your own ISBN. Now that only happens if you use a Createspace ISBN. And even so, what shows on a form depends on what the form uses for data sources: if it shows ISBN and looks up the ISBN, then it would get the ISBN owner. If it simply assumes the supplier of the data feed (Createspace) is the owner, then it shows Createspace as the publisher. That's how audiobooks often show up as Publisher = AudiobookFeedProvider even when the ISBN belongs to the Publisher.

How booksellers see a traditionally published book when they order from Ingram

Participating in the book trade

Posted in Distribution, and Just for Writers

All kinds of industries

I've been a business entrepreneur all my life, primarily in the software and IT industries. In addition to building companies, I've had to build a working understanding of other industries and sectors in order to provide services for them: logistics, health care, educational testing, banks, brokerages, and several others. My businesses were small and mid-size, but most of my clients were large Fortune-500 sorts of companies.

I've prided myself on being able to dive into a new-to-me industry and burrow down into its basic gears and levers, so that I can analyze how it works. In many cases, I've had to understand it well enough to create software for it that would cover all situations, and that takes a deep understanding of what can happen.

So when I decided to become an independent author, I was cocky about applying the same acumen to the book trade. After all, I wanted to know all about how it worked and how to match my new business with it successfully. That naive expectation didn't last long.

Here's the problem…

Libraries and independent authors

Posted in Distribution, and Just for Writers

Kansas City Public Library (my old hometown)
Kansas City Public Library (my old hometown)

As a courtesy recently for my local library's director who wanted to understand more about how she could get indie authors into her library, I put together an overview document for her which I thought I might share here.

This is entirely from the perspective of an old IT entrepreneur turned indie author, not a library distribution insider. But I've seen plenty of business model disruptions in my career, and I think some trends are likely. We'll see… 🙂

Introduction

As an entrepreneur who has spent her entire career building and running small and medium-sized software-related businesses with Fortune 500 customers, I am excited by the rapidly-evolving world that is the independent author movement.

As an independent author with a single-author publishing business (Perkunas Press), I consider libraries an important component of my business.

Many of us (independent authors, aka “indies”) are deeply informed about the publishing industry from the author and publisher perspective, but much less so about the library portion of the industry, and when we speak with our library colleagues, we find that they are also less knowledgeable about the indie movement.

I’d like to change that. This little document is a gift to the Director of my local library, in case she or her colleagues might find it helpful.

I will generalize with a broad brush, concentrating on those indie segments which are the leading edges of opportunities to work together. My own knowledge of library procedures and constraints is limited, and I apologize for any errors there in advance.

The publishing world today

Disruption

What is now typically referred to as the “traditional publishing” industry is in the middle of a classic business model disruption event, similar to the one that hollowed out the popular music industry a decade previously (c.f., the excellent “Ripped” by Greg Kot ).

Like most such events, the incumbent industry is still in denial and unsure of what is happening to them. The upstarts, however, are very clear about what’s occurring.

Sending your books out into the world

Posted in Distribution, Just for Writers, and Publishing

ThrowingBooksI've been coming up the learning curve for the issues of distribution ever since I started writing in 2012. I thought I'd share with you some of my procedures, since my internal “tips” document has just stretched to 10 pages and shows no sign of stopping.

I'm not going to look at marketing at all here. Instead, I'll focus on just the mechanics of getting my books into all the distribution channels I can.

If you note any particular omissions, I'd be grateful if you'd mention them in a comment, or if you would bring up differences for other countries. (Keep in mind I'm based in the United States — your mileage may vary.)

Goal

Worldwide distribution (in English for now) in ebook, print, and audio without going to extraordinary efforts.

I want to create my books, and then fling them out to as much of the world as I can reach. That's the first step. What good is it to make the world's readers want to read them, if they can't lay their hands on them?

Audiobook edition of To Carry the Horn

Posted in Audiobook, Distribution, Just for Writers, Publishing, Release, and To Carry the Horn

ToCarryTheHorn - Audio - Trimmed - 800x800More than two years ago I decided to experiment with producing an audiobook edition of To Carry the Horn, the first book of The Hounds of Annwn. Many new authors were having success with audiobook editions, and I wanted to get some experience with the market and the process.

I looked at the primary partner at the time (and still), ACX, where most people went for this service. The process was well-laid out and very thorough. They offer voice actors who charge by the finished-hour of recording. There are ways of having some of that cost subsidized. It's a very clean, seductive marketplace, bringing authors and voice performers together and distributing the results.

I went through the audition process and located a couple of promising voice actors but then I… stopped. You see, the costs to produce an audiobook are quite high.