One Big Blog Post

January 31, 2014 by Darren

On January 14th, I invited you to share a journey with me; an adventure deep into the heart of metadata. I told you a bit about the history of metadata and how it’s used for books, that time the printing press changed everything and, after that, when the internet changed everything again. And then I made a promise that the following week I’d be back to share more metadata history with you. I broke that promise.

I gave you up, I let you down, I ran around and deserted you.

To make up for it, I’m going to share (almost) everything I’ve learned about metadata over the past two weeks.

Metadata: the data we use to describe other data, like books, films, photographs, and websites 

A Recap:

Metadata has been around ever since we started collecting large volumes of books in one place, beginning with the Library of Alexandria in the 3rd Century BCE. Librarians used the Pinakes system to keep track of things like the author’s name, his educational background, where he was from, the title of the work, what it was about, etc. Whether all you’ve got is a list of titles on your bookshelf or a comprehensive catalogue covering everything from the writer’s birthplace to the number of words in the manuscript, you’ve got metadata.

The Elements of Metadata (Most Commonly) in Use Today:

In the tradition of the librarians of Alexandria, we still collect data like title and contributor, and we sort our titles according to subject (usually). But since so many books are now published each year, we’ve created industry standards that help keep everyone involved—publishers, vendors, retailers, libraries, etc.—on the same page. The most integral element of modern metadata is the ISBN—the International Standard Book Number. See, books are products like any other object manufactured and sold, and they require an ISBN to be identified among the multitudes of other products that make up the book marketplace. ISBN is assigned by a regulatory agency, and allows publishers and retailers to monitor inventory and efficiently identify specific products during business transactions. A similar and less known standard is the ISTC—the International Standard Text Code. The ISTC identifies the work of a book. For example, take a look at one of our backlist titles, Onward to the Olympics. The work of the book, being the manuscript itself and its actual contents, would have one ISTC, while each edition of the book (hardcover and paper) has its own ISBN—because each edition is a separate product.

(An aside on ISBN:

This 13-digit code need not frustrate or intimidate you. There’s actually a method to this madness, you just need to get to know it a little better. The 13-digit ISBN is made up of five separate elements:

  1. Prefix Element: The first three numbers of the ISBN insert the code into the global product ID system. Right now there are two prefixes available, 978 and 979.
  2. Registration Group Element: This number refers to the country, geographical, or language area of the publisher.
  3. Registrant Element: These five numbers identify a particular publisher or imprint. Some publishers may have more than one registration element.
  4. Publication Element: This element refers to a specific title.
  5. Check Digit: The check digit completes the ISBN, serving as a secondary error check for systems using ISBN and is automatically calculated by the preceding digits of the ISBN.

[Worth noting: ISBN in Canada is assigned by the Standards Council of Canada, in the US by the American National Standards Institute and in the British Commonwealth by the British Standard Institute.])

Still with me?

Other metadata points typical on our books’ pages include:

  • Title
  • Subtitle
  • Contributors
  • Contributors’ roles
  • Price
  • Format
  • Edition
  • Page length
  • Description
  • Contributors’ biographies
  • Review
  • Cover art

…You get the idea.

Electronic communication in the book business necessitated not only a need for rich metadata for books, including the abovementioned ISBN, but it also created a need for a standard way of communicating metadata from the publisher all the way to the end user (you, you amazing book reader).

Say hello to ONIX.

ONIX is not a Pokémon. What it is, is an XML-based international standard for representing and communicating book metadata electronically, usually using FTP (file transfer protocol). ONIX allows for global communication across languages and boarders of book product info, using ISBN as a match point for reference. It enables various systems to interact and engage with each other, using a shared language with common grammar, definitions and structure.

ONIX is a product of EDitEUR, an international organization started in 1991 to coordinate the development of infrastructure standards for selling books, serials and e-books online. Thanks to ONIX, manual file processing is reduced, accuracy of data transmission and interpretation is improved, and processing speed quickens. We could go pretty deep down the ONIX rabbit hole, but we won’t. Let’s just say that thanks to ONIX, a huge amount of metadata pertaining to thousands of books finds its way to the screens of many a consumer.

Wait, screens?

The driving force behind the creation of all these standards and practices was the rise of internet bookselling. Before Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, or Apple, book data transmitted electronically was mostly used for business transactions, inventory management, etc. The really meaty data, which you find on our book’s pages here on our website, was still largely being communicated by print.

When retailers started selling books online, they needed rich metadata from publishers in order to create their “digital shelves.” And to stay competitive in a disruptive market, retailers began displaying metadata directly to consumers. For the first time, metadata was a direct component of the consumption process, essentially becoming the browsing and discovery experience for anyone who shops online, and changing the way publishers had to craft their metadata.

Today, when you find a book online it’s because of the metadata. Retailers like Amazon use sophisticated algorithms that rely on metadata to decide which books to show to who, so publishers have to be more conscious of how they construct it than ever before. It has to have the right keywords, it has to appeal to a consumer, it has to have the correct structure for that particular retailer, and it has to be accurate.

So that’s where we’re at with metadata right now. It really is every publisher’s favourite thing to love hating, but without it you’d never find our awesome books.

What will metadata look like in the future? It’s tough to say—the thing is you never know what you need until you need it, so the rule of thumb is to collect as much as possible. That being said, it isn’t inconceivable to imagine a future where entire works are mined for data, including elements like style, voice, tone, keyword density, etc. And it isn’t that hard to imagine an evolved metadata environment, taking the “upstream/downstream” model (metadata predominantly flows from the publisher, “upstream” to the consumer, “downstream”) and turning it on its head, allowing publishers to use retail/vendor metadata to inform future business decisions. We might even get real-time metadata analysis, with publishers split-testing different elements to see what works best online.

But that’s just speculation, and this has been a very long blog post about metadata.

The Evolving Elements and Uses of Metadata

January 14, 2014 by Darren

So it’s been quite a while since our last blog post. When we wrapped up #NaBloPoMo, we took a (well-deserved!) break. Then we were shut down for a little while over the holidays. But now we’re back with our first post of 2014, and it’s all about…

metadata bookMetadata!

Metadata has been used to organize and describe ideas as early as the 3rd Century BC, when the Pinakes system was used in the Library of Alexandria to keep track of roughly 500,000 manuscripts. At the time, metadata collected included the book’s title, the author’s name, his father’s name, his birthplace, his educational background, any teachers he studied under, and lastly, a brief biography. Sometimes they also recorded the first line of the work, a summary of its contents, and information about its origin. The manuscripts were then stored in separate rooms according to subject.

The librarians of Alexandria must’ve been onto something, because elements of the Pinakes system are still in use today, and were the norm for centuries.

Until the printing press.

Prior to the printing press, books were kept in libraries and monasteries and were more or less exclusive to the wealthy elite. But when the press created a boom of book production, and the number of books printed per year exploded, things started to change.

As books became more accessible, private presses flourished and demand grew. Printed catalogues were the most effective tool publishers had to get word out about their new and forthcoming titles. Libraries found themselves housing more books than ever before, and they came to rely on the likes of the Dewey Decimal System, subject headings, and specific rules for entering bibliographic data in order to organize their shelves. Information about publishers themselves came to be included in a book’s metadata as well.

In the 1970s—a newly computerized world—electronic record keeping and electronic transfer of bibliographic data influenced publishers and libraries. Libraries developed Online Public Access Systems for consumers, and publishers started using the International Standard Book Number (ISBN) to manage bibliographic data as well as their inventories for libraries and retailers. The data publishers stored electronically was relatively brief, since printed catalogues were still the primary vehicle to disseminate rich information about titles.

Then the internet showed up.

Websites like Amazon began their ascension, and for the first time consumers were interacting directly with publisher metadata. Thanks to new technologies like ONIX, which allowed for a streamlined standard for communication of data from publishers to distributors, metadata now includes rich descriptions of text crafted to speak directly to consumers. And as sites like Amazon and Google continue to craft more intelligent algorithms, metadata is being designed with discoverability and search engines in mind, to help titles stand out against the millions of other books published every year.

The elements and uses of metadata are still evolving for both libraries and publishers. But this short history solidifies efficient metadata, like title, author, subject and summary as being the most useful way to store and organize the ever-growing volume of published books in the world.

Come back next week to learn how the move from in-store to online bookselling has been further changing metadata post-1995.

#NaBloPoMo Highlights

November 30, 2013 by Darren

#NaBloPoMo has been pretty wild. This month we’ve blogged about the Kitchener-Waterloo area, our latest books, staff members here at WLU Press, the future of the scholarly book and our interdisciplinary Environmental Humanities series (to name a few!).

For the big finish today (and we’re all so sad to say goodbye) I dug through our archives to select some of my personal favourites. Here are the very best blog posts from #NaBloPoMo at WLU Press:

Blaire wrote this ode to the KW area. I’m pretty new around here myself so I got a kick out of this one.

Philip McTaggart, our Financial Administrator, reflects on spending a year in the life of academic publishing.

I wrote a profile on Lisa Quinn, our acquisitions editor.

Clare made this big connection between Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch and one of our books.

She also wrote about Israel Unger’s celebration at the Senate earlier this month.

Jasmine Derr asked, “Does format mater?”

Dr. Cheryl Lousley contributed a spotlight on our Environmental Humanities series during University Press Week.

And lastly, for the aspiring novelists out there, I found three books of ours that can help you write your next (or your first) masterpiece.

We’re not going to stop blogging, but we will be toning the frequency down a bit. Thanks for following along, everyone!

Press Profile: Heather Blain-Yanke

November 29, 2013 by Darren

When Heather Blain-Yanke was first hired as a Layout Assistant, almost 40 years ago, WLU Press was known as Academic Publications and printed about 10 books a year. Today, she’s the Production and Editorial Projects Manager and oversees the 35-40 titles we now publish annually.

Heather’s seen big changes come to the publishing industry. Her earliest responsibilities included the laborious duty of printing out camera-ready copy, manually changing the typesets on the printer where different fonts and sizes were required. After revisions, she would use a light table and an x-acto knife to superimpose corrections onto the original script. And when it was finally ready for printing, she would have to individually inspect printer-supplied negatives for dust spots to make sure the finished product came out properly.

It isn’t hard to imagine why we only published 10 books a year.

Heather’s process has changed considerably since then. After a book is acquired, Heather launches workflows, monitors the editorial process, establishes budgets, manages freelance designers and compositors, and works with printers, juggling many deadlines along the way. When a book is ready for production, she supplies designers with cover design elements and suggestions. “There’s such a satisfaction when you see a book come into print,” she beams.

If this sounds like a lot of work, that’s because it is.

As technology has evolved and enabled WLU Press to publish more and more books, Heather’s job has gotten more and more, well, crazy. “You learn quickly in this job that you have to be very organized,” she explains. One of her tricks? Perhaps counter-intuitively, Heather uses printed documents and schedules to keep herself organized. But most of all, she’s just one of those fast-thinking, fast-moving doers who knows what she likes when she sees it, and seems to be wired perfectly for the multi-tasking role she’s mastered. “I can talk fast,” she fires out, then catching herself, “I have a pretty busy brain.”

As our conversation wound down I asked Heather to select some of her favourite designs from our more recent books. Here’s what she said:




The Newfoundland Diaspora

Mapping the Literature of Out-Migration

Jennifer Bowering Delisle

“I love the cover design and the use of gloss spot varnish is a nice touch. The chapter opener design treatment has played off the dots on the cover, which I think is quite clever.”







Ornithologies of Desire

Ecocritical Essays, Avian Poetics, and Don McKay

Travis V. Mason

“It’s just a gorgeous cover design. I’d like to pet that bird. The interior design is very clean and tight.”






Avatar and Nature Spirituality

Bron Taylor

“I’m drawn to the beautiful colour of this book. It has a very calming effect.”






Heather’s busy brain gets its downtime after hours, when she likes to read fiction and spend time on her boat. Maybe her quirkiest quirk? Heather is a design and layout junkie who actually prefers her printed work sans serif. “It’s more modern,” she says.

Marketing Skills You Need to Make it in Publishing

November 28, 2013 by Darren

I recently read this Forbes article that lists the three skills you need to make it in the publishing industry, as overheard last week at the FutureBook conference in London.

The three skills:

  1. Understanding mark-up language
  2. Working with data
  3. Mastering workflow

But those aren’t the only skills you need…

I present the other list of necessary skills to make it (as a marketer) in (academic) publishing. The list you need to be on the inside to know:

Rule No.1: Smile! You’re in the publishing industry

But don’t let having your copy edited by a real copy editor do this to you

There are three essential types of meetings you must master:

1. Transmittal Meetings

1. Cover Meetings

3. Marketing Meetings

Your position on the “death of print books” is

Netgalley and Edelweiss are your new best friends

But there’s always a new opportunity somewhere out there…

And this should always be you when a new book comes out

BONUS: Establish dominance with Booksonix immediately, or
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Vulcans, Earthlings and Marketing ROI Getting Finance, Marketing and Advertising onto the Same Planet David Rutherford and Jonathan Knowles

Vulcans, Earthlings and Marketing ROI
Getting Finance, Marketing and Advertising onto the Same Planet
David Rutherford and Jonathan Knowles

Think you’re ready to be a marketer? Read Vulcans, Earthlings and Marketing ROI by David Rutherford and Jonathan Knowles to learn how accountability applies to a marketer’s role in an organization.

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*No lions were harmed in the making of this post.