The most common data mistake

Recently spent a lot of time looking at publishers data as we have taken on a host of new clients. Also, have been looking at a project for one of the largest on-line retailers involving looking at title information from potentially tens of thousands of publishers. So, now I feel reasonably well qualified to produce a list of the most common issues that we have with publishers data. Please note this is not confined to small publishers or publishers from any particular sector of the market. And is intended simply to try and help publishers start thinking about these issues in the hope that when they do have to take a system on board for whatever reason and from any of the suppliers in the market it will be a littl easier and certainly less costly for them.

1) Have in an electronic format – You may be surprised the number of publishers who still have key information on sheets of paper lurking at the back of filing cabinets. In particular we notice this is prevalent with royalty and elements of production information.

2) Multiple copies – Very often find that different departments have the same information. For example, there may be Access database in the rights department containing some customer information and ‘broadly’ the same information will be a Word file in the Accounts department. Perhaps, the most common is multiple copies of core title information such as blurbs and so on in the editorial and marketing departments. Editorial may have this information again in a Word document and marketing often seem to have a collection of Quark files which they refer to when looking up title information. It is generally the case that other than the creators or primary users of one particular source nobody has any real knowledge or access of it.

3) A myriad of formats – Everything from Quark files to Wordperfect documents often contain part of the data ‘picture’. For the record centralise on one format. We would strongly suggest Microsoft Excel for ease of migrating information and therefore the cost.

4) Just check it – The amount of times that we come across titles with wrong ISBNs, publication dates, availability or pricing I couldn’t count. Quite simply, the stats from all the big retailers tell you supplying these fields in a correct and timely manner means you are an awful lot more likely to sell your books. So check them!

5) Be consistent: – Perhaps one of the strongest arguements in favour of a single source for all your title information. Again, we often find that a book may be differently categorised in one department to another. This causes chaos and will lead to wasted times and costs while the inconsistencies are sorted out and often debated at quite mind numbing lengths (I kid you not). If it helps think what the average systems suppliers day rate for on site time will be (anywhere from $1000 to $2000 a day plus expenses) and ponder if arguing over whether a title is ‘Fiction’ or ‘ Modern Fiction’ is something you want to be spending that on.

6) Separate your data out – One of the other most common and time consuming issues is the practice of putting as much iunformation as possible into each field in your spreadsheet (this assumes of course you have one). The two most common examples: 1) Every piece of information about a title crammed into a title name field, eg ‘A History of Absurdity (3rd Ed) (Pb): the case for change’; 2) All the authors for a title crammed into one field, eg, By Darren Hale (Editor) and Elizabeth Montgomery (Author). All this information needs separating out into its constituent elements.

7) What do you need to do? – Look at the standard you want to conform to! And see how your data fits the requirements of the standard or the database you wish to populate. In the case of Onix refer to the editeur.org website and dowload the freely available specification. Don’t try and fit a ‘square peg into a round hole’ it will be expensive, time consuming and quite frankly you will lose the will to live.

Some help! Clicking on the title of this blog entry will take you to a page where you may download a sample spreadsheet which is a good reference point when looking at your title and related information with a view to stepping up to the Onix plate.


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