Misuse of the title and subtitle fields

BISG has received reports of metadata senders using the subtitle field – and sometimes the title field – to carry marketing and promotional text. An example might be content such as “A Thrilling Suspense Novel from the Author of X” placed in the subtitle field. The Book Industry Study Group strongly discourages this practice, and it urges publishers to avoid using the title and subtitle fields for content other than these bibliographic elements.

The misuse of this field causes problems for partners, including: 

  • The Library of Congress's efforts for Cataloging in Publication (CIP), which is increasingly reliant on ONIX metadata as an input
  • Books In Print's cataloging
  • Various libraries and library systems, like OCLC
  • Vendor databases for book ordering

It is vitally important that data in ONIX fields sent by data providers is the data that is expected by data recipients.

The reasoning behind adding marketing text to subtitles is understandable. The critical role metadata plays in connecting readers to products online is essential to publishing and something that is constantly reinforced within the industry. The top of the product page where the title and subtitle reside is prime real estate—the first thing a prospective customer sees. This is especially true on mobile devices. It is understandable that publishers want to take as much advantage of this space as possible.

While misuse of the subtitle field is not a new development, the recent examples provide an opportunity to remind all metadata creators of best practices. The title and subtitle fields in metadata should contain only the title and subtitle content that appears on the title page of the book itself. Providing promotional copy – or other extraneous information – in title and subtitle fields leads to downstream confusion as well as problems for metadata recipients. The likely result is that one or more recipients will change the title and / or subtitle field, without the publisher's knowledge or consent. The recipient may feed these changes to other parts of the supply chain, resulting in further confusion.

ONIX, the metadata standard used by the U.S. supply chain, provides distinct fields for promotional and marketing copy, including cover lines and promotional headlines. Awards can be described in fields dedicated to that purpose in ONIX. Metadata senders should use these fields when they want to convey such information.

BISG understands that some metadata senders claim they are placing promotional copy in title and subtitle fields explicitly because some retailers do not display the data provided in fields such as “Promotional Headline.” Retailers could be more transparent about how they categorize and display metadata. Without transparency, publishers have chosen 'known-to-be-indexed' data elements like subtitle to guarantee certain copy is displayed.

BISG continues to urge wholesalers and retailers to make use of correctly supplied promotional text sent via ONIX, ensuring it is displayed prominently to the customer and indexed for search purposes. We ask that retailers contribute to the solution by displaying the promotional headline as an explicit field. BISG plans to renew its communications with recipients around this expectation.

Still, misuse of the title and subtitle fields by senders does more harm than good. Misuse of the metadata fields can lead to consumer confusion as well as the breakdown of efficient metadata transmissions. Data recipients may ignore subtitles altogether or “lock” key data fields after manual correction, preventing metadata updates or delaying visibility of products online. 

BISG urges both metadata senders and receivers to work together to rectify and improve how marketing copy is displayed in retailing environments. Senders should make use of available metadata fields for promotional copy and recipients, especially retailers, should find ways to display such information to consumers.

See several statements of support for effective use of the title and subtitle fields.