A no-nonsense handbook to navigating and getting the most out of your metadata distribution system
What is ONIX for Books?
First thing’s first: what exactly is ONIX? Is it the british spelling of a black stone? Is it a pokemon? No, and yes, but, not here. Developed by a company called EDItEUR in 2001, ONIX for Books is the global standard format for creating, transmitting, and, and communicating book product and bibliographic information electronically.
“ONIX is an XML-based standard for rich book metadata, providing a consistent way for publishers, retailers and their supply chain partners to communicate rich information about their products.”
If you’ve ever seen html code or seen a movie with hackers, you’ve seen what an ONIX file looks like. The kind folks at EDItEUR created a standard of fields using codes so that no matter what language you speak, you can accurately communicate the information about your book that retailers need to sell it. It’s like digital Esperanto.
The files– which ONIX calls “messages”–are sent from publishers to distributors/retailers through a variety of systems. Since the format is a guideline and not a product, they can be sent as simply as via email attachment or as sophisticated as through third-party tools and File Transfer Protocol (FTP) providers.
The individual files can be viewed either in an internet browser (we recommend Chrome), in a simple text editing software (Notepad for Microsoft, TextEdit for Mac). Since ONIX messages are built to speak between computers, they can be difficult for humans to read. Third party software that breaks down each code into easy question and answer fields are available. Some of the most popular include ONIXEdit, Book Connect, OnixSuite, Title Manager, BookSonix and BiblioLive.
How does ONIX work?
Once completed, the ONIX messages are transmitted to the specific retailers, who use the information to populate fields for the product display as well as within their own cataloging and search functions.
Why does complete ONIX metadata matter?
In one word: sales. Books with complete metadata sell more copies, across both digital and nondigital platforms.
In 2016, the Nielsen Company, Bowker, and Baker and Taylor published the findings of their US survey of book sales and metadata, entitled “Nielsen Book US Study: The importance of Metadata for Discoverability and Sales,” which reinforced the findings of their 2012 Nielsen Book UK study, which found a strong link between books with complete and relevant metadata and increased sales–including for offline retailers.
Their results promote the well-founded idea that discoverability — “the ease with which a particular product can be found”–hinges on complete metadata, and makes the important distinction that it’s not just about the direct consumer discoverability, but for gatekeepers in the book industry supply chain, most notably librarians and booksellers, too:
“Providing accurate data on properties such as publication date, price, supplier and physical attributes aids booksellers in planning their stock management, from scheduling future orders, to planning shelf space or storage allocations, to ensuring shipments are made on the most economical terms (through referencing physical attribute data).
“Maintaining an efficient supply chain ensures that booksellers can focus on selling books – and maximizing sales for publishers and themselves. Where this valuable supply chain data isn’t available to the bookseller, at best they will need to carry out additional work (leading to decreased efficiency) and at worst they may not order the product due to an inability to plan for it effectively.”
While that all may sound daunting, the 2012 study examined just ten attributes out of 3,000+ ONIX code entries available for completion. In the 2016 study, Nielsen examined the metadata of the top 100,000 bestselling titles from July 2015 to July 2016. Beginning with eight basic fields that they identified as the basic level of completeness– ISBN, Title, Format/Binding, Publication Date, BISAC Subject Code, Retail Price, Sales Rights, Cover image, and Contributor–and found that conforming titles saw average sales that were 75% higher than titles that did not.
They also looked at two critical groupings of data that revealed more positive sales correlations:
Books with complete descriptive data (title description, author biography and review) saw 72% higher sales than those without Books with keywords saw 34% higher sales than those without.
Quick guide: Reading the XML
Get into the nitty-gritty of the ONIX messages!