Nielsen’s Study of Metadata and Sales, Part 1

June 24th, 2012

NOTE: The white paper discussed below was updated in 2016. Download the new version here (PDF). The thrust of the report is the same, with updated data and analysis.

You can find part 2 of this blog here.

Most people know The Nielsen Company from its very famous TV ratings service. But the company is much more than that. Founded in 1923 and headquartered in the Netherlands, the Nielsen Company has its hand in most media businesses, including radio, online and books.

Nielsen BookData collects book information from over 70 countries, notably the UK (and Europe), Australia and South Africa. At Digital Book World 2012 in New York in January, Nielsen Book President Jonathan Nowell presented a white paper called The Link Between Metadata and Sales.

For anyone still concerned about whether the effort to include metadata with online book listings is worthwhile the report makes compelling reading.

Quoting from the report, the conclusions include:

  1. Titles that meet the BIC Basic standard see average sales 98% higher than those that don’t meet the standard
  2. The addition of an image has a strong impact on average sales, of 268% in comparison to titles without an image
  3. Fiction is the genre most significantly affected by the completeness of both BIC Basic and enhanced metadata
  4. The difference in average sales between records which don’t meet the BIC Basic standard, have no image and don’t have enhanced metadata, and records which do meet BIC Basic and have all four enhanced metadata elements is on average…almost 700%

BIC is a UK book publishing trade group, Book Industry Communications, the equivalent of the U.S. BISG, and of BookNet in Canada. Just 11 metadata elements are required to meet the “BIC Basic” metadata standard:

  • ISBN
  • Title
  • Product form (format)
  • Main BIC subject category
  • Imprint name
  • Publication date
  • Cover image
  • At least one supplier name
  • Availability status
  • GBP retail price including VAT
  • Statement of rights relating to UK

Basic it is. Title, publisher, retail price, format and ISBN number seem to be the most important data here. But BIC Basic includes a key element that is not “data” as we word ordinarily think of the term: the cover image. It has long been known that covers sell books. Covers sell books in bookstores and they sell them online. In reviewing the Nielsen study Michael Cairns included the “(anic)data point” that a book with a cover image was considered 8X more likely to sell versus one without a picture.

Covers are such a powerful sales tool that their presence really overwhelms the other 10 required metadata elements in the BIC Basic standard. As hard as it is to imagine buying a book without a cover, sight unseen, as it were, it’s very simple to imagine buying any book without an ISBN or a rights statement. Yes, we certainly need the title, but not the imprint name and probably not the publication date.

The report shows that if 10 BIC Basic data fields are present, the cover by itself improves book sales by a factor of five!

This is great news. For covers. But not great news for data-style metadata. Without an image but with the 10 fields filled in sales increase from 385 copies to 437, or 13.5%. And that’s for books that are current and selling well generally. The 100,000 titles in the data set (from over 1 million unique ISBNs sold in the UK in 2011) “represent 91% of the total volume sales, and 87% of total value sales in 2011.” It’s conceivable that the impact would be greater on a dog of a title, but not likely.

I’ll cover more of the report in my next blog entry.