With the dawn of book digitalization and the explosion of online book sales, it has become more important than ever for publishers to transmit book information—including title, cover design, synopsis, reviews, author bios, and more—to their trading partners in a standardized way. That’s why more and more publishers are using the relatively new industry standard that’s called ONIX International.
ONIX (an acronym for Online Information Exchange) is the international standard for representing and communicating book-industry product information in electronic form. You don’t think transmitting your data using a standard electronic form is important? Imagine trying to get information about your book to online markets without one. Since every major organization (Ingram, Bowker, Baker & Taylor, Barnes & Noble, Amazon.com, etc.) would have a different format preference for receiving your data, you would have to spend precious time and countless resources reformatting your information to satisfy conflicting trading-partner demands.
Enter ONIX International. Developed and maintained by EDItEUR jointly with Book Industry Communication (U.K.) and the Book Industry Study Group, Inc. (U.S.), and with user groups in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, and the Republic of Korea, ONIX International was launched in 2000 as a solution to two current problems:
- the need for richer book data online
- the widely varying format requirements for receiving this data mandated by major book wholesalers and retailers worldwide
Throughout 1999, the Association of American Publishers (AAP) had worked with major wholesalers, online retailers, and book-information services to create a universal, international format that all publishers, regardless of their size, could use to exchange information about books. The group unveiled ONIX, Version 1.0, in January 2000. The latest version of ONIX, known as ONIX International, is currently in Version 2.1.
Because Information Spurs Sales
In response to a small PMA notice about an update to ONIX International last month, one PMA member said, “I’m afraid I’m not sure what ONIX is, but it sure does sound important!” And that’s absolutely right.
In the brick-and-mortar world, the jackets or covers of most books provide much of the promotional information a customer needs to make an informed purchase. Prospective buyers can see cover designs, synopses, reviews, author bios, blurbs, and more. Collectively known as a book’s metadata, all this information works to make a book sell by generating interest in it.
Online, with the actual book replaced by a Web page, publishers need another way to convey all the rich information of the jacket or cover, and they have the option of also supplying audio and video files pertaining to a book. ONIX International lets you transmit book metadata of every sort in a clean and seamless way across multiple trading-partner channels, ensuring that the correct information is displayed in the correct way everywhere.
Research indicates that the more information customers have about a book, the more likely they are to buy it. The ONIX standard acknowledges this by specifying more than 200 data elements that publishers can provide about a book and explaining how to send that data in an “ONIX message.” Some data elements (such as ISBN, author name, and title) are required; others (such as book reviews and cover images) are optional. While most data elements consist of text (e.g., author bios), many are images and audio files. Along with other optional fields—excerpts, reviews, cover images, author photos, and so on—these multimedia elements can lead to more sales online.
Those of you who are into technology might like to know that an ONIX message is a set of data elements defined by “tags” written in the computer language XML (eXtensible Markup Language), and that each ONIX message must conform to a specific template, or set of rules, also known as the ONIX DTD (Document Type Definition). The DTD defines, among other things, how the data elements are interrelated and how they should be arranged.
An ONIX message is transmitted across networks and the Internet in the same way as other data. For instance, it can be sent as an email attachment or by FTP (file transfer protocol). Once an ONIX message is received by, say, an online retailer, that retailer verifies the data’s integrity and then translates the data into what you see on its Web page. (How much of the data is displayed is strictly up to the retailer.)
If all this has sent your head spinning, you can turn the technical implications of using ONIX over to your IT specialists or take a look at the “Product Metadata Best Practices” document released by the Book Industry Study Group, Inc. (www.bisg.org/docs/Best_Practices_Document.pdf). This document is intended as a response to: “I’ve downloaded the ONIX documentation. Now what?!?”—a question publishers often ask the first time they encounter the standard.
Also, you can join the e-forum that BISG established to let people who are implementing ONIX International ask questions of other users and ONIX technical consultants. The forum is open to all current and prospective ONIX users and accessible at www.bisg.org/onix/implementers_listserv.html.
For more information about ONIX International, or to download the current version (2.1), visit www.bisg.org/onix/index.html or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Who’s Using ONIX?
With the understanding that it doesn’t make much sense to follow a standard in secret, BISG has created the ONIX Users Directory, a place where book-industry professionals can provide and view the most up-to-date information about ONIX usage nationwide.
The current ONIX Users Directory contains ONIX usage information from Baker & Taylor, Barnes & Noble, HarperCollins, Ingram, John Wiley & Sons, Library of Congress, Pearson, Powells.com, Nielsen BookData, and many more companies.
To find out who is receiving ONIX files, who is sending them, and where you can get help, visit www.bisg.org.