Monday, February 27, 2012

Metadata in iBooks, iBookstore, iTunes Producer, InDesign, and Amazon

I got an email today asking how to set the subject keywords for an ebook in InDesign. That part is relatively easy. You choose File > File Info, and add the desired keywords to the Keywords field, separating each keyword from the next with a comma or semicolon:

Metadata Keywords InDesign

But what happens when InDesign exports to EPUB? I'm happy to report that it does exactly what it should and converts those keywords into dc:subject elements in the OPF file:

Metadata in content.opf

Now, I'm no expert on metadata, so I have not made it a point to use standard BISAC book categories for describing the subject of my books in those fields. We'll come back to this.

When you upload your book to Apple's iBookstore, you have the option of entering BISAC data in iTunes Producer:

Metadata in iTunes Producer

And that data entered in iTunes Producer overrides whatever you entered in the content.opf file (or InDesign for that matter). When someone downloads your book, they will only see the Main BISAC category (although the original keywords remain in the content.opf file inside the book):

Metadata in iBooks

And as far as I can tell with this single example (though I've heard other anecdotal evidence also in support), the iBookstore does not use the keyword metadata to help aid searches for your book. Notice for example a search for GREP, which I specified as one of the keywords for this book:

Metadata in iBookstore

iBookstore fails to return my book when searching for "GREP", even though the book contains "GREP" as a subject keyword.

For the record, my book does appear when searching for "InDesign" and "EPUB", presumably since those words are also in the title.

Then I switched over to Amazon to check what happens there. I also had to enter the BISAC categories when uploading my book to Amazon. In addition, they let me enter up to 7 keywords.

KDP Metadata

Amazon doesn't list a category next to a book on the Kindle. When I search for InDesign and EPUB, my book appears (as it should, since those words are in the name). More importantly, when I search for "GREP" on Amazon, my book also appears: grep

Now, I am not at all sure whether Amazon is paying attention to my specified dc:subject elements or more probably to the keywords that I specified above. But either way, it gets points for finding the book.

Seems like you can't hurt anything by adding the metadata in InDesign and/or directly in the EPUB file, but it is far from conclusive whether or not it helps. I wonder if other ebook distributors pay attention to the dc:subject elements. Does anybody know?

Finally, Apple iBookstore clearly has a long way to go towards being a useful tool for discovering books you're interested in. That it completely ignores metadata categories and gives you no other method for specifying them is pretty lame, to say the least.


  1. I agree with all of your findings, Liz. I independently confirmed through an email exchange with Apple that on the iBookstore the only terms that will come up in a search are the words in the titlle/subtitle, the author's name, and the ISBN number. I suggest that through iTunes Connect we all put in a feature request to change this.

    My wife's current book, "151 Uncommon and Amazing Art Studio Secrets - to Boost Your Creative Output" cannot be found with a search for "art techniques". I'm just about ready to re-submit it with a slight title change, adding the word "Techniques" in front of "to Boost..." so it reads "Techniques to Boost Your Creative Output." This way it'll come up in a search for "art techniques".

    The book sells well on Kindle Store, often being number 1 under Art>Instruction and Reference>Color. On iBookstore it's nearly impossible to find and sells poorly. it's frustrating and difficult to discover books in the iBookstore.

  2. Apple is definitely behind in terms of helping people actually find books in their store. Unless your book is already well known or featured on the store homepage, your chances of people finding your books, solely by browsing the iBookstore, are pretty slim. And in our experience, it directly reflect on sales. At least in our case, the same book will always sell at least 3 times more on Amazon than it does on iBookstore. I wonder if it's been the same for everyone else. It's a shame really, since on the reading side, the app really goes along way in presenting the content, usually being the better looking platform. But, until Apple improves the issues of their store, I'm afraid it will keep being just a pretty platform.

  3. Liz, most likely Amazon is finding "GREP" because it's in the book description you submitted.

    Also, though Amazon does not list BISAC subjects, it automatically maps them to Amazon Categories, which ARE listed and are used for browsing. Unfortunately, this mapping sometimes produces not-quite-logical results.

  4. I think I entered keywords expecting them to help with general Google searches. I didn't even think about booksellers. I supposed the stiff and largely uninformative "subject" or "category" menus had more to do with them. This is one reason why we need "librarians," a thing I have been thinking about today; the reader's responsibility to review. Grassroots publishing - and grassroots book recommending.

  5. Since you currently can't find the iBooks on any particular topic, the iBookstore is limited in its usefulness, particularly for students and teachers. I like to believe that Apple will fix this glaring omission.

  6. Take extra caution when adding your metadata before uploading your book to apple. I had a careless spelling mistake in my book description that I caught as soon as it went live. I obviously corrected the error and resubmitted the book through itunes producer. That was 4 days ago and spelling error is still there. Good times…. Good times.


More of my books