Metadata, Customer Data and Title Management Systems

Part two of Anthony Finn's series of posts on data management which also includes
Book Metadata – an IntroductionData Strategies in Academic Publishing
and ISBNs – Vital or dying in e-publishing?

In a previous post I discussed metadata, the data that publishers create in order to help readers find books. But this isn’t the only type of data that publishers must now handle.  By and large, the publishing industry has gone beyond sending reps out to retailers with AI sheets and book covers to collect monthly orders.

Other Mavericks have blogged about publishers embarking on a closer relationship with their customers, and publishers are now in a position to collect and use data about end-users, even when dealing through aggregators and bookshops.

We are communicating with data:

  • Electronic catalogues and databases have replaced printed catalogues
  • Information about titles is distributed electronically
  • Orders are sent and received electronically
  • Sales statistics are captured electronically, at point of sale in print retail and for ebooks
  • Subscription sales information is sent to us in ever greater quantities from aggregators and agents

And this communication happens globally. If our day to day business now generates all this data, it’s obvious that even smaller companies will need a data strategy to deal with it.  Enter the Title Management System. The TMS can be backbone of the publishing operation from manuscript to market and beyond.

Title Management Systems

As with many IT purchases, solutions range from inexpensive bibliographic database tools to complete publishing suites, with multi-functional capability:

  • ONIX output
  • Product marketing
  • Contract management, rights and royalties
  • Editorial and production workflow management
  • Warehouse management, stock control
  • Sales data integration

These systems are generally modular and some can be purchased, or operated as SaaS (Service as a Subscription) meaning no need for expensive hardware costs.

A central record, with multiple levels of read/write access benefits all departments, not least by cutting down on ‘spreadsheet soup’ created by different departments trying to manage their own information and creating data that is invisible outside their specific department. Imagine a world without a Title Management System:

  • Editorial create a book and fix the title and price
  • Details are circulated to all departments
  • The manuscript arrives and is 30% longer than original
  • Oh yes, and the author has changed the title
  • Production carry out a thorough costing and recommend a higher price
  • Sales decide to make it a lead title and recommend reducing the price
  • The rights manager sells the title into a book club deal; further complicating the price decision
  • The web manager puts book online with the original price, acting on the only information they have
  • Marketing have already published catalogue copy with completely different price
  • That price has been sent to Nielsen for general distribution

Fantasy? No! This really happens.

Wherever I’ve been involved with moving to a Title Management System, after a period of integration (as with any change) everyone in all departments has found their work more efficient.

Managing a TMS

Publishers have long relied on partnerships with their authors to market and sell titles. And where an author, contributor or editor has a following, publishers should seek to reduce ambiguity.

For instance, all these may be the same person:

  • Smith, Jon
  • Smith, Jonathan
  • Smith, JL
  • Smith, Jonathan L

But sticking to standard identifiers, such as the MARC standard for displaying author names helps. An ISNI (the International Standard Name Identifier) covers an even wider range of identity issues including:

  • Writers
  • Artists
  • Performers
  • Organisations – and more

And helps databases to distinguish between a hypothetical Michele Smith (female singer) and Michele Smith (male author). An ISNI consists of 16 numerical digits. In academic publishing, an ORCID identifier will perform much the same task.

Data – the big challenge

By far the biggest challenge when managing customer data is to agree on and implement standards across an organisation. Data can come from multiple sources; ‘system’ data silos, multiple locations – ‘geographic’ data silos, and data can be entered through multiple channels or by different people. In all these cases the data itself can be a challenge.
What will you do about:

  • Foreign names and spellings
  • Deutschland or Germany? München or Munich?
  • Kaapstad or Cape Town?
  • Customer names – consider adding these to the first-name, last-name fields
  • Zhang Wei or Wei Zhang
  • Saud ibn Abd al-Aziz ibn Abd al-Rahman Al Saud
  • Institutional names which version should be entered?
  • Institut de Recherche et Documentation en Economie de la Santé
  • Institute for Research and Information in Health Economics

Creating a new customer name involves deploying data policies. And thus a data control department becomes a necessity. This is because customer services, marketing and editorial departments all have different priorities, which lead them to approach the data in a different way. A data control department allows the implementation of a long term approach by creating some accountability.  
Drawing on the work I’ve done with publishers I’d say that the deadliest data sins are:

  • Missing fields
    e.g. email address, country, phone
  • Duplicates
  • Merging records with different data
  • Errors
    country = London. Postcode in City field
  •  Inconsistencies
    Mr, mister, MR. Smith, John; John Smith
  • Missed connections
  • Customer not linked to organisation
  • Old information
  • Conflicts
  • Customers request marketing information in one application and refuse it in another. Which is correct?

The value of data; both metadata and customer data, can’t be overstated for those companies who are willing to nurture and maintain it. And the Title Management System is the tool that allows that to happen.


Author: Anthony Finn