Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Lost in Transition

The ISBN, ISSN, BIC and BISC codes and jacket images have all helped the trade, but do they still matter as much in the digital and direct marketing era?

It’s as if we have all been on a constant never ending journey to improve the contextual information and identification of works. Everyone in publishing today understands the relevance and power of good structured bibliographic information. This helps us search, find, validate and select the right work, but is this still enough in today’s consumer driven market?

Today we use the likes of Google to search, Wikipedia to search deeper, Amazon and ABE to search for books and the likes of email, Facebook and Twitter to communicate. The reality is that they are what many of us use and so are pivotal to any marketing strategy. Does the consumer know or even care about the ISBN and would they know the BIC and BISC category codes?

Today we have to start to think about the user, how they want to find things, how they socialise and how they can validate the relevance of what they find.

The emergence of the jacket image, which really started with the likes of Amazon in the 90s, has now become a de facto standard. Whether we like it or not, users can and will often immediately, ‘judge a book by its cover’. It’s hard to imagine selling physical let alone digital trade books over the internet today without the jacket, but is that enough?

We all dabbled with ‘search inside’, but even Amazon often got this wrong and their ‘surprise me’ page could often turn out to be a ‘reject me’ one. First chapters were not fully exploited as a free teaser and the page selection experience was and remains somewhat inconsistent and haphazard across the market. It is interesting that academic publishers often understood the key pages to sell their books, but others left it to the arbitrary, ‘pick 10% from anywhere’, which could include front matter and even blank pages!

A product description, (blurb) and readers comments and their ratings often now accompany an individual title, but again more as filler than a driver and are often restricted to one site. Some would also suggest that some consumer comments, read like they had been written by a marketing person, an author and not a consumer.

We have seen the author video which often was too long and also tended to play to the converted. We have seen the emergence of other video reviews from retailers and fans but these often languish on YouTube looking for a home. Youtube is as valid a promotion platform as any, but how many use it and what information is tagged?

Google gave us the ultimate search across the content itself but this often was only as good as the term used and the pages rendered. How many jacket images and illustrations are correctly tagged, promoted and linked through the likes of Google images?

So as we move into the ‘enhanced ebook’ world and the content itself can explode into different media, how do we package that contextual wrap such that it is contestant across the market, engages consumers and sells books, be they physical or digital? Esther Dyson once said that the key to the Internet was being able to find that digital needle in the digital haystack. We would suggest that we haven’t found it yet. We may also have to rethink what we do and consider a revolution not a gentle evolution.

Some would suggest we adopt the DOI identifier but they would be as foolish as when it was first muted in the late 90s. Some would suggest that every form of a rendition is given a unique ISBN and that would appear to miss the mark. Some would suggest it more important that we are able to group renditions and present choice than divide them and offer a disjointed picture.

Finally, we are moving from a front list bestseller mass market to one that sells all books, in all forms and has a distinctively long tail. How do we revisit those long forgotten titles and ensure that they too have visibility?

It is important that we recognise that context needs to be uniform and available to all across the market. So what would you see as the contextual information of tomorrow?

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