To ONIX 3.0, or not to ONIX 3.0?

Photo of Tricia McCraney

Tricia McCraney joined Virtusales Publishing Solutions as a Projects Consultant in 2015, working with clients to implement the Biblio suite of software modules including Bibliographic, Production, Contracts and Rights, Royalties and Digital Asset Management. Prior to joining Virtusales, Tricia worked as an industry consultant specializing in ONIX for clients including BookNet Canada, eBOUND Canada, the National Reading Campaign, and Indigo Books. Having previously worked for Bowker and, Tricia estimates she has analyzed thousands of ONIX files from hundreds of publishers over the last 17 years. She is a member of both the BookNet Canada and BISG Metadata Committees and, outside of all things book data, is a photographer and record collector.

Having attended Tech Forum almost every year since the inaugural event in 2006, Tricia is excited to make the leap from long-time listener to first-time speaker in her session ONIX Hacks: Balancing standards with necessity on publishing’s frontlines.

To ONIX 3.0, or not to ONIX 3.0: That is the (persistent) question. 

For many of us in the North American market, the answer is an ROI riddle, wrapped in a metadata mystery, inside an EDI enigma. But now is the time to move from ONIX 2.1 to 3.0. Here are five ways ONIX 3.0 is good for data senders (publishers and distributors) and recipients (retailers and trading partners) alike. 

1. There’s a place for everything

ONIX 3.0 makes full use of composites, and the benefit is clear: no more redundant or deprecated data elements, so your data is much better structured, and much easier for recipients to interpret.

    • Senders: Because there’s a place for everything in the ONIX message, it’s your job to put everything in its place. With 3.0, you can better see and understand where things go.
    • Recipients: there’s a place for everything, and when publishers do their job, everything’s in its place. This means better data for the supply chain, and better data for you.

If you’re unsure what a composite is, Graham Bell and I arrived at this definition: “A data element that contains only other data elements (and no data of its own). Acts as a wrapper around a set of related data elements, largely to enable them to be repeated in a neatly structured way.”

2. Sales and distribution rights are clear

One of the more radical shifts in ONIX 3.0 concerns the way sales and market data are communicated for individual products. The creation of a <ProductSupply> composite allows for enhanced supplier, market, and promotional data — a change that can be characterized this way:

    • ONIX 2.1 describes suppliers and, for each supplier, lists the markets in which it sells, whereas ONIX 3.0 describes markets and, for each market, lists the suppliers operating within it.
    • Broadly speaking, the <ProductSupply> composite makes it easier to express information about multiple suppliers in a market, so senders give good data about the rights they hold, and recipients get good data about who they can buy from globally.

Additionally, ONIX 3.0 provides a Rest of World Sales Rights Type, <ROWSalesRightsType>, and this data element allows senders to explicitly say when rights are unknown or unstated.

Ambiguities created by the differing ways geographical areas are described for sales rights, market representation, supplier territories, and price validity are also removed in ONIX 3.0 (see image below taken from the slides of Graham Bell’s ONIX 2.1 to 3.0 Webinar for BookNet Canada). The same <Territory> composite is used each time, providing consistency for data senders and for recipients.

3. Digital books are products too

This one’s a gimme: pat yourself on the back for knowing that ONIX 3.0 allows for the robust description of ebooks and other digital products. The crucial enhancements:

    • It’s now possible to describe a digital product as more than just a digital ‘binding’ or product form. ONIX 3.0 supports the use of a Primary Content Type data element allowing senders to provide detail about enhanced ebooks, for example, and other digital content.
    • ONIX 3.0 allows senders to communicate whether watermarking or DRM has been applied (or will be applied at retail) as well as time- and content-based limitations. This means senders can communicate usage constraints related to access and viewability, and can allow different levels of constraint depending on price — this opens up the possibility of rental prices and other new or complex business models.

4. Sets and series are re-imagined

The holy grail of good book data just might be accurate and complete sets and series information. And with the <Collection> composite, ONIX 3.0 provides a new way to organize products that are part of a set, series, or other multi-item group. The composite provides senders with enhanced flexibility when describing products, including:

    • the ability to order a collection of titles outside of a numbered series — such as according to narrative order, publication order, or suggested reading order; and
    • creation of collections based on character, place, or other narrative features that aren’t normally part of a series or set. For example, children’s books featuring the same main character or characters can be described together as part of a collection: think Berenstain Bears, Little Critter, or Maisy.

5. The metadata is the message

Seven years after the release of Version 3.0 and three years beyond the sunset date for ONIX 2.1, it’s time for data senders and recipients to get together, and get moving. ONIX 2.1 has been viewed as ‘good enough’ for many years, but standing still eventually means falling behind. The book market — and the ebook market in particular — is not the same as it was from 2002 to 2006 when ONIX 2.1 was defined, and the value of rich metadata continues to increase.1 In 2017, the answer to our persistent question is this: the metadata is the message, and with ONIX 3.0, the message is clear.

1 For example, read the two recent Nielsen studies on the links between high quality metadata, discoverability and sales:

If you’d like to hear more from Tricia McCraney about ONIX hacks, register for Tech Forum, March 23, 2018 in Toronto. You can find more details about the conference here, or sign up for our mailing list to get all of the conference updates.