Back in March 2018 the BIC called on UK publishers not to game the system by abusing metadata.
Amazon too makes clear that metadata abuse is unacceptable.
Except when it’s Amazon abusing the system, that is. At #2 in the Kindle UK charts as this post goes live is a Thomas & Mercer title that is in breach of Amazon’s own metadata rules.
First, some background:
BIC – Book Industry Communication – describes itself as,
an independent organisation set up and sponsored by the Publishers Association, Booksellers Association, the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals and the British Library to promote supply chain efficiency in all sectors of the book world through e-commerce and the application of standard processes and procedures.
Unfortunately it seems many publishers only pay lip-service to BIC guidelines. Consider, for example the BIC Statement on Best Practice for Subtitle Field in Metadata Feeds, issued March 9 2018.
Said the BIC in its sternest voice:
Some publishers and other metadata providers are using the subtitle, and sometimes the title fields, in metadata feeds to carry marketing and promotional text. By this we mean using phrases such as ‘Sunday Times Best Seller’, ‘Gripping read from…’, ‘The Richard & Judy Book Club thriller 2017’, ‘The best thriller writer alive’, ‘Man Booker prize winner’ and so on. It is important for discoverability, good customer experience and an efficient data supply chain that these data fields reflect only the true title and subtitle text that appears on the title page.
The statement goes on,
There has been a significant escalation of this practice over the last twelve months, despite consistent feedback from BIC members across the book trade that this is causing substantial time-consuming work to correct at various points throughout the supply chain. BIC has seen numerous examples that are confusing and misleading for consumers trying to make a buying decision.
Feedback received to date also reveals this poor practice is having an adverse effect on supply chain efficiency both in terms of the timing of product to market and costs incurred by retailers and aggregators having to remove the unwanted text.
The statement further notes that,
Amazon’s ONIX Submission Guidelines emphasise the importance of Title and Subtitle as they “drive many of the processes to build clear and customer-friendly detail pages. […] As a general rule, do not append anything else in [these elements] besides what actually appears on the [book].” Its KDP metadata guidance also states that title and subtitle in the metadata must match the book itself.
For additional clarity, Amazon spells out the guidelines for its KDP publishers:
Titles are the most frequently used search attribute. The title field should contain only the actual title of your book as it appears on your book cover. Missing or erroneous title information may bury valid results among extraneous hits. Customers pay special attention to errors in titles and won’t recognize the authenticity of your book if it has corrupted special characters, superfluous words, bad formatting, extra descriptive content, etc. Examples of items that are prohibited in the title field include but aren’t limited to:
• Unauthorized reference to other titles or authors
• Unauthorized reference to a trademarked term
• Reference to sales rank (e.g., “bestselling”)
• Reference to advertisements or promotions (e.g., “free”)
After the March 2018 BIC statement many UK publishers took not a blind bit of notice.
And today, more than eighteen months later, gaming the system by abusing the metadata rules is still par for the course. Fast forward October 2019 and its clear some publishers have no compunction about ignoring the BIC and Amazon’s own rules about metadata usage. The view seems to be, if no-one is enforcing the rules, why play by them?
While Amazon clearly states that “extra descriptive content” in a title is not permitted, and that only words on the cover are allowed in the title metadata, it seems no-one told the Amazon imprints.
Take the #2 bestselling Kindle UK book as this post goes live, as published by Thomas & Mercer, with the title,
The Friend: An emotional psychological thriller with a twist.
Of course, Thomas & Mercer isn’t alone (and in fact Amazon imprint offenders are relatively few compared to other publishers).
As this post goes live half the Top 20, and over 40% of the Top 100 in the Kindle UK bestsellers charts are in breach of Amazon guidelines and BIC metadata rules:
The Holiday: The bestselling Richard and Judy Book Club thriller
The Man Who Didn’t Call: The OMG Love Story of the Year – with a Fantastic Twist
Twas The Nightshift Before Christmas: Festive hospital diaries from the author of million-copy hit This is Going to Hurt
Found: the most gripping, emotional thriller of 2019 (a BBC Radio 2 Book Club pick
The Book of Negroes: Commonwealth Prize Winner
A Village Affair: a laugh out loud, heartwarming novel perfect for summer reading
The Noble Path: A relentless standalone thriller from the #1 bestseller
It’s a very different story on the Kindle US site, where it seems that, while the rules are still not enforced (these same titles with the same metadata abuse are to be found on the US site) the algorithms appear to weigh against abusers. Only one Top 20 title in the Kindle US store has a metadata-abusing title as this post goes live.
But the message for publishers targeting the UK market is clear. The rules will not be enforced, so why abide by them?