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Selection and Amalgamation of Indexes

There is a temptation, especially for publishers with long backlists of still-relevant titles, to try to add value by merging the indexes to individual books into a sort of super-index, in the hope that it will indicate the full scope of your coverage of a subject and lead to wider sales.

Sadly, indexes don't merge smoothly. Each is designed specifically to fit the book it matches, rather as every key fits only its specific lock. An indexer doesn't stick to the author's vocabulary slavishly, but they will privilege it. Also, their coverage is selective; a biography of Isaac Newton isn't going to have all the entries at 'N', which means that merging it could suggest Newton wasn't covered. You would also run into format problems like clashing cross-references, if one indexer, perhaps following an author's preference, used 'noble gases see inert gases' and another, for equally valid reasons, did the reverse.

So, even if the indexes are all produced by equally skilled professionals to the same quality, they will not have been designed with merging in mind; confusion will result. The best way to merge subject coverage descriptions would use some controlled vocabulary (like a thesaurus). Controlled vocabularies though don't work for individual books: the book index needs to anticipate the reader's choice of terminology, so control is the last thing that's wanted. Also it won't reflect authors' preferences and will seldom be up-to-date with the latest terminology or detailed enough to express subtle arguments. But it might work for your back-catalogue.

The Publishing Technology Group can advise on controlled vocabularies (please contact us), but we'd also advise against merging indexes.

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