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The Smart Way to Send Book Information: An Introduction to ONIX

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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

·      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


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. (<span
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 <span


For more information about ONIX
International, or to download the current version (2.1), visit <span

or email info@bisg.org.


Angela Bole is marketing
and communications manager of the Book Industry Study Group.






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 <span



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