Desperately Seeking Good Data: Why, How, and What Booksellers Need You to Tell Them
by Linda Carlson
Especially if you’re new to publishing, you may be familiar with ISBN but bewildered by industry terms like BISAC, ONIX, EAN, imprints, and edition type. And no matter how long you’ve been in the business, when you’re struggling to get a book edited, designed, and off to the printer, it can be hard to remember that your wholesaler, distributor, and major retailers need all the information these terms cover at least six months before a book goes on sale.
These aren’t mere details. They are what determines whether a book moves from warehouse to retailer to customer without confusion or delay. It’s also important that you as the publisher keep this information updated when a project is postponed or abandoned, when a title or a price changes, and when a new edition comes out.
Without accurate book data, you’re likely to lose sales. A bookseller may tell a customer that a title is out of print, not knowing that it can be special-ordered. Or a cataloger serving the visually handicapped market may be unaware that you’re now offering a large-print edition of a popular title. And without accurate on-sale dates, wholesalers and booksellers may not place orders in time to have books available when publicity starts for a title.
In this article, and in articles coming up, we’ll define book data and how it relates to ONIX, explain why wholesalers, distributors, and retailers need all this data from you; what the ill effects are when information is inaccurate or incomplete; and the options for submitting data, either through vendors or by doing it yourself.
Publishers issuing fewer than 100 titles a year can submit their book information via bowkerlink.com to Bowker, which publishes the industry standard for bibliographic information, Books in Print. Larger publishers and those who are tech-savvy can submit information via ONIX or with Bowker’s Excel template. For details, see bowker.com/index.php/data-file-submission. There is no charge to submit to Bowker.
ONIX is not data, but a format for sending data about your books. The international standard for representing and communicating book industry product information in electronic form, it was developed and is maintained by EDItEUR together with standards organizations such as the British group Book Industry Communication and the American Book Industry Study Group.
You can find detailed directions about coding for ONIX on the Book Industry Study Group Web site (bisg.org) in the PDF titled “Product Metadata Best Practices for Data Senders.” What follows explains why the information is necessary for book metadata.
The Data You Need to Provide
ISBN. All new titles should be assigned a 13-digit ISBN, and that should be submitted in data feeds, without spaces or hyphens, 180 days prior to a title’s on-sale date. As BISG points out, “The book industry supply chain is almost completely dependent on the ISBN numbering system. Transmitting an accurate product identifier for every item is the only way a publisher can ensure that its trading partners will order the correct products.” You must submit a unique product identifier for every single product.
Title. This is the complete name of a published product, including the subtitle if there is one, as it appears on the title page.
You may use a variation of the title on dust jackets or spines, but don’t submit variations in data records.
Titles should be presented in the appropriate title case for the language of the title, which is defined for English-language books as headline style. In other words, “the first and last words and all nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, and subordinating conjunctions (if, because, as, that, etc.) are capitalized. Articles (a, an, the), coordinating conjunctions (and, but, or, for, nor), and prepositions, regardless of length, are lowercased unless they are the first or last word of the title or subtitle.” Titles published in Spanish and French should have the first word of the title and of the subtitle, and all proper nouns, capitalized. All other words should be lowercase. Titles should never be presented in all capital letters as a default.
A title, even if it is only a preliminary title, should be supplied 180 days prior to the on-sale date. Preliminary or working titles should be updated to final titles at least 120 days prior to the on-sale date.
Contributor(s). These are the names, titles, and roles of everyone or every organization named as a participant in the project.
Each contributor, along with his or her role, should be listed separately. Contributors may include authors, illustrators or editors, or the editors of a publishing company.
Publisher/Imprint/Brand Name. A publisher is defined as the entity that owns the legal right to make the book or other product available in this form. Publishers may be incorporated businesses, divisions of larger companies, governmental agencies, nongovernmental organizations, educational institutions, or individual persons.
Corporate names should omit any suffixes denoting incorporation (e.g., Inc., Ltd., S.A.). Names should be presented as they normally appear in print (e.g., Alfred A. Knopf). The imprint is the “brand” name that the publisher uses on the title page of the book. Imprint names usually also appear on book spines and dust jackets. For example, Vintage Books is an imprint of Alfred A. Knopf. BISG guidelines specify that imprint names should not indicate their parent publishing companies (e.g., Checkmark Books, An Imprint of Facts on File); publisher names are listed separately.
When you submit publisher and imprint names, do not include copyright, trademark, or other symbols, because these can cause problems in searching and indexing names in bibliographic database catalogs.
Like the data elements described earlier, this one should be submitted 180 days—six months—prior to the on-sale date.
Price. This means the suggested retail price, expressed in dollars for titles to be sold in the United States. It is required even if the price is not printed on the book.
Publisher’s Proprietary Discount Code. Even if you don’t offer different discount schedules, you should complete this field in your data submission. BISG specifies that this code cannot be the value of a percentage discount from the retail price. It can, however, be a code that refers a customer to a list of discounts that you have on your Web site or in your trade catalog.
Publisher Status Code. This code tells buyers where the book is in its product life cycle, and it should be submitted for every book you have published or plan to publish. For new books, it should be submitted 180 days before the on-sale date.
The available codes to use are:
• Cancelled: The product was announced and subsequently abandoned.
• Forthcoming: Not yet published; your expected publication date should be included.
• Postponed Indefinitely: The product was announced and subsequently postponed with
no expected publication date.
• Active: The product was published, and the publisher is accepting orders for it,
though it may not be immediately available.
• No Longer Our Product: You’ve transferred ownership of the product to
• Out of Stock Indefinitely: The publisher is no longer accepting orders for this title,
although stock may still be available elsewhere (on bookstore shelves, for
example), and there are no current plans to bring it back
into stock. This code does
not specify whether returns are still being accepted.
• Out of Print: The publisher will not accept orders for this title, though it may still be
available elsewhere as a new book, and it will not be made available again
with the same ISBN. Using this code normally implies that the publisher will not
accept returns beyond a specified date.
• Inactive: The book is now permanently or indefinitely unavailable in the sense that
the publisher will not accept orders for it, though there still may be some
stock available elsewhere. This code can be substituted for “Out of Stock Indefinitely”
and “Out of Print.”
• Unknown: The use of this code is discouraged; trading partners expect publishers to
know the status of each of their titles.
• Remaindered: The book is no longer available from the current publisher, under the
current ISBN, at the current price. It may be available through another channel
such as a remainder dealer’s catalog.
Product Availability Code. You should specify this using one of the following codes:
• In Stock: Available from the publisher as a stock item.
• Awaiting Stock (i.e., on order): Not yet available, but will be a stock item. BISG
recommends this code for books you are importing, when they have been
published in the country of origin but have not yet arrived in your country.
• In Stock: Available from the publisher as a stock item.
• To Order: Available from the publisher by special order.
• Manufactured on Demand: Available from the publisher by manufacture on demand
(today, usually POD).
• Not Available: Not available from the publisher.
• Not Sold Separately: Must be bought as part of a set.
Product Form (Format/Binding/Packaging). Although most of us talk in terms of the paperback edition or the large-print edition of a book, BISG clarifies that these are really book formats. Examples include:
• trade paperback book
• mass-market paperback book
• hardcover book
• audiobook on cassette
Publication Date. There is no single definition of “Publication Date” in the U.S. book trade, so publishers can choose whatever pub dates they like. BISG Best Practices advises: “Publication Date is defined by many key accounts in our market as the date on which a retail consumer may purchase and take possession of a given product,” typically the date on which a book is on sale in bricks-and-mortar bookshops. “Where a book is sold via online or mail order prior to its appearance in physical stores, the publication date is defined by many key accounts as the date the consumer will receive the book.”
On Sale Date (or Strict On Sale Date). Books like the Harry Potter novels are often embargoed for sale until a certain date. This is the On Sale date.
BISAC Subject. The BISAC subject headings, which describe the topic of a book and are often printed on the upper left corner of the back cover of the physical book, and transmitted electronically to online stores, help bricks-and-mortar stores shelve titles and online retailers categorize their data.
The current list of BISAC Subject Headings consists of approximately 3,600 subjects grouped in 50 major categories. For more information, see bisg.org/publications.html.
Language of Product Content. Every applicable language that is used for a significant portion of the book content should be indicated.
Series. This can be any number of books that are published over any time period and grouped together, usually for marketing purposes. Some publishers offer standing orders for each new publication in a series. A series does not usually have its own ISBN, EAN, or UPC, and it is not usually sold as a single item (as a set might be). Some books belong to more than one series.
Series Number. If books in a series are sold in successive order, this is the number of an individual publication. Many books in series do not have series numbers.
Edition Number. An edition number is required for a numbered update of previous publication. First editions do not need edition numbers.
Edition Type/Description. When you publish a version of a work that is “materially different” from an earlier or simultaneous version, you are creating a different edition. As BISG explains, however, “The same work is often published simultaneously in hardcover, audio CD and audiocassette, and that work will subsequently be published in trade paperback and possibly mass-market paperback as well. These variations in product form do not constitute different editions.”
Examples of edition types are:
• Abridged: Content has been shortened.
• Adapted: Content has been adapted to serve a different purpose or audience, or from
one medium to another (for dramatization, for example).
• Annotated: Content is augmented with notes.
• Braille: Published in Braille.
• Critical: Content includes critical commentary.
• Coursepack: Content was compiled for a specified educational course.
• Enlarged: Content has been enlarged or expanded from that of a previous edition.
• Expurgated: “Offensive” content has been removed.
• Facsimile: Exact reproduction of the content and format of a previous edition.
• Illustrated: Includes extensive illustrations that are not part of other editions.
• Large Type/Large Print: Printed in 14-point or larger type.
• Microprint: A printed edition in type too small to be read without a magnifying glass.
• Media Tie-in: Published to coincide with the release of a film, TV program, or
electronic game based on the same work.
• New Edition: Where no other information is given, or no other coded
type is applicable.
• Revised: Content has been revised from that of a previous edition.
• School Edition: An edition intended specifically for use in schools.
• Special Edition: Anniversary, collectors’, deluxe, gift, limited, numbered, or
• Student Edition: When a text is available in both student and teacher’s editions.
• Teacher’s Edition: When a text is available in both student and teacher’s editions;
also used when instructor’s or leader’s editions have different material.
• Unabridged: When a title has also been published in an abridged edition; also for
audiobooks, regardless of whether an abridged audio version also exists.
• Unexpurgated: Content previously considered “offensive” has been restored.
• Variorum: Content includes notes by various commentators, and/or includes and
compares several variant texts of the same work.
Volume Number. This indicates the number of a particular publication within a set and the total number of publications in the set.
ONIX Audience Code. Because you should supply only one audience code for a book, use the code for the primary audience even if you believe the book will appeal to several audiences.
Audience codes include:
• General/Trade: For a nonspecialist adult audience.
• Children/Juvenile: For a juvenile audience, not specifically for any
• Young Adult: For a teenaged audience, not specifically for any educational purpose.
• Primary & Secondary/Elementary & High School: Kindergarten, preschool,
primary/elementary or secondary/high school education.
• College/Higher Education: For universities and colleges of further and
• Professional and Scholarly: For an expert adult audience, including
• ELT/ESL: Intended for use in teaching English as a second language
• Adult Education: For academic, vocational, or recreational courses for adults.
• Age Range of Target Audience: It’s recommended that you specify the
exact age in years or school grades when the intended audience comprises children or
young adults. Age ranges such as “up to age 5” and “age 8 and older”
Case Pack/Carton Quantity. The number of units of the book or other product that are packed in the product’s standard shipping container.
Replaces/Replaced By (or Related Product). Here is where you indicate the product identifier (usually an ISBN) for a previous edition of a current product and the identifier for the successor edition of the same or similar product
Territorial Rights. This tells retailers and other resellers where they can sell your book, and it protects the rights of those to whom you have licensed or sold specific territorial rights. For example, you might license rights to a French edition to a Canadian company for sale only in Canada.
Bar Code Indicator. Specify what kind of bar code the book carries, usually EAN or UPC, and where the bar code is positioned.
Weight and Dimensions. Used only for physical books, this describes the length or height as the measurement of the spine from top to bottom; the width as the measurement perpendicular to the spine; and the depth or thickness as the measurement across the spine of the book from left to right.
Return Code. Here is where you describe your general returns policy. Special returns conditions (for example, for customers who have received deeper discounts because they were buying on a nonreturnable basis) should be described elsewhere.
Examples of returns codes are:
Yes: returnable, full copies
No: not returnable
Conditional: contact publisher for requirements
Strippable: can return stripped copies instead of full copies
Page Count, Running Time, and Extent. Unless your book has no numbered pages, this is not the total number of pages in the book. Instead, it’s the total sum of the numbered pages. Books that have pages numbered in both roman and Arabic numerals should count the total of both. For multivolume books sold under a single product identifier, use the page count for all the volumes combined. If the individual volumes are sold separately, each product record should carry a page count for that volume.
Running time means the total length, in minutes or hours, of recorded content.
Distributor/Vendor-of-Record. This is the company that takes and ships customer orders. As BISG explains, most publishers designate one vendor-of-record for each geographic rights region or market segment.
Some vendors-of-record will service multiple geographic rights regions and/or market segments. For example, you might contract with one wholesaler to fulfill orders to general trade bookstores in the United States, and a different one to provide this service in Canada. You might also designate a third firm to fulfill orders from Christian bookstores and yet a fourth to fulfill orders from newsstands and other mass merchants.
According to BISG, wholesalers, such as Ingram, Baker & Taylor, and Brodart, “should not be described as a vendor-of-record if they are simply reselling a publisher’s products. Only if a wholesaler is a publisher’s designated vendor-of-record should a wholesaler be listed as the vendor-of-record in an ONIX message. “
Number of Pieces. The number of saleable components composing a single product. For example, an audiobook may consist of 10 CDs, or a gift product may consist of a book and a toy.
This term applies to prepacks, dump bins, and counter displays where a single product includes several saleable pieces.
Textual Description of Product. This descriptive text is similar to (or perhaps the same as) text printed on the flap of a dust jacket or on the back cover of a book or DVD package.
Illustration Details. These list how many and what kind of illustrations or other images are in this product.
Acceptable codes to use are:
• Illustrations, black & white
• Illustrations, color
• Halftones, black & white
• Halftones, color
• Line drawings, black & white
• Line drawings, color
• Tables, black & white
• Tables, color
• Illustrations, unspecified
• Halftones, unspecified
• Tables, unspecified
• Line drawings, unspecified
• Halftones, duotone
• Printed music items: printed music extracts or examples, or complete music score(s),
accompanying textual or other content
Digital Image of Product. This is a digital photograph or scan of the product suitable for display on Web sites. Today this data element is mandatory. It should be named by an ISBN, EAN, or item-specific UPC and submitted as a TIFF or JPEG, scanned at 150 dpi and in RGB.
The longest side of the digital image should be at least 750 pixels, with the shorter side proportional. Book images should be a flat front cover scan cropped tight to the sides of the product. In cases where the front cover image is of little merchandising value, publishers should also supply a back cover image and/or an image of the title page of the book.
Linda Carlson (lindacarlson.com) writes from Seattle.
If you don’t submit the right data in the right form at the right time, you’re likely to lose sales at several points and for several reasons.
Those of you who aren’t yet motivated to start—or keep—providing good data are advised to hold on to the instructions in this article; the next installment in our data-quality series will provide more motivation by focusing on the ill effects of ignoring them.
And for those of you who find all this too daunting, we’ll also be providing information on hiring help.
To ensure that your titles are listed correctly and completely with wholesalers and major online and offline retailers, you may also want to submit this same information to them directly.
Some will want additional information, such as author bios, photos, and, for juvenile books, the Lexile score. For specifics, check these Web pages:
Amazon.com: “Books Content Update Form,” reached from “Publisher & Vendor Guides,” amazon.com/gp/content-form/?ie=UTF8&product=books.
Baker & Taylor: “Vendor Title Submission Form,”
Barnes & Noble: “How to Submit Content,” reached from the “Help Desk,” barnesandnoble.com/help/cds2.asp?PID=8150&.
Borders: “Customer Care,” borders.com/online/store/CustomerServiceView_borderscommunity; recommends that publishers contact Bowker and wholesalers.
Ingram Book Co.: Email bookbuyer@Ingram.com for details if you do not have an account and buyer established.
Online Computer Library Center: “Information and Services for Publishers,” publishers.oclc.org/en. If you’d like more information regarding subject headings, this page provides a link to a BISG Webcast, “BISAC Subject Headings: Connecting Books and Readers.”