Discoverability and data

Philip Stone
Opinion - Books Monday, 04 November 2019

Nielsen research emphasises the ever-growing importance of rich metadata, writes Philip Stone

The proportion of books bought online continued to grow in the UK in 2018, according to Nielsen Book Research data. After tip-toeing past the 50% mark in 2017, Nielsen Books & Consumers data reveals that 52.4% of a grand total of 355m books bought in the UK last year were online purchases. Almost 12m more books were bought online last year than in the previous year. That is a rate of almost 32,000 extra online book purchases every day.

In terms of format, 35% of all physical book purchases were made online and 88% of all audiobooks. In terms of genre, more than two-thirds of all adult fiction sales were online purchases, and just over 50% of non-fiction.

Nielsen Books & Consumers data shows that the most important means of discovery for book-buyers last year was searching or browsing, with 30% of all books sold in 2018 influenced in some way by this method. And in terms of why these books were bought, as opposed to discovered, the main influencer was a fondness or interest in the subject (27%, or 97m sales), followed by a like or interest in the author and, as the third biggest influencer, the book's description.

A book's description influenced 62m book sales in the UK last year, or 17.4% of all sales. When it came to ebook purchases, this share was even higher, at 23.7% - up significantly from 16.9% in 2014.

So a book's description is becoming increasingly influential when it comes to book purchases, particularly digital purchases. But the importance of rich metadata shouldn't stop at ensuring a book's brief synopsis is available on Nor should it stop at ensuring a book is coded with the right BIC or Thema classification to maximise sales coming from browsers searching by genre or keyword. Nielsen Books & Consumers data also reveals that last year in the UK, 40m book purchases were influenced by a recommendation or review, and 37m influenced by a read extract or a "look inside" feature. In which case, adding review text to a book's bibliographic record and utilising preview widgets should also be part of Metadata 101.

Improving visibility
Nielsen is committed to promoting the importance of metadata. Improving visibility and discoverability of the "work" (the book as a whole, regardless of format) is the ultimate goal. Its BookData database is a rich source of information on the physical English-language books market, and coverage of the ebook market is a constant focus. For example, Nielsen now has the ability to link physical and digital editions - a tweak users of BookData Online will have seen via the appearance of an "All formats of this edition" hyperlink on a book's results page. At the moment "all formats" extends to all available formats in physical and ebook only. Due to narrators often appearing as "Contributors", linking audio editions to physical and ebook editions is thorny, but it remains an important goal for Nielsen nevertheless.

Ebook and digital audio metadata hasn't always gone through a bibliographic aggregator like Nielsen, the primary relationship instead existing between publisher and the retailer. But Nielsen is building on its presence in this space - to bring its expertise across all corners of the physical book business to the ebook and audio markets. Its English-language bibliographic database is a rich and comprehensive catalogue that benefits publishers, retailers, academic institutions, libraries, wholesalers and therefore, ultimately, the most important people in the book business: book-buyers and readers.

Illustration: prompts to purchase (source: Nielsen Books & Consumers)

Philip Stone is media manager at Nielsen Book International.

This article first appeared in the Publishers Weekly/BookBrunch London Book Fair Show Daily.

Also on BookBrunch

Featured Video


more charts »