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The ONIX for Books Product Information Format is the international standard for representing and communicating book industry product information in electronic form.

ONIX is an XML-based standard for rich book metadata, providing a consistent way for publishers, retailers and their supply chain partners to communicate a wide range of information about their products. It is overtly a commercial data format, is expressly designed to be used globally, and is not limited to any one language or the characteristics of a specific national book trade. It’s widely used throughout the book and e-book supply chain in North America, Europe and Australasia, and is increasingly being adopted in the Asia Pacific region and South America too.

As an XML-based standard, each release of ONIX for Books consists of documentation that specifies the data content of a standard ONIX data file or ‘message’, plus an asssociated XML schema that can be used for validation of an ONIX file. Originally these schemas were in the form of a basic DTD (Document Type Definition), but more sophisticated XSD (XML Schema Definition) tools have been preferred since 2006. ONIX 3.0 is supported by DTD, XSD, RNG and ‘strict’ XSD schemas. These XML tools – and ideally using the XSD and ‘strict’ XSD – are vital to ensuring ONIX messages meet the requirements of the standard and are broadly interoperable with other implementations.

EDItEUR provides these specifications, various XML tools, plus guidance on how to implement ONIX, and use of all these materials is free of charge under the terms of a highly-permissive licence. No registration, royalty fee or membership is required to implement ONIX.

ONIX is not in itself a database, nor is it even a design for a database – it is a way of communicating data between databases – but many EDItEUR members and other organizations provide commercial off-the-shelf software or web-based applications for product management that implement ONIX messaging. Other members have developed their own in-house solutions that implement the ONIX communication standard.

Business benefits

For publishers who implement ONIX using an in-house development or by installing a commercial off-the-shelf product data management solution, experience has shown that ONIX for Books brings two important business benefits. As a communication format, it makes it possible to deliver rich product information into the supply chain in a standard, consistent form, to wholesalers and distributors, to larger retailers, to data aggregators, and to affiliate companies. This greatly reduces support costs, as publishers no longer need to provide data in so many unique formats. In many cases, a single data feed can be made suitable for all of a publisher’s supply chain partners. And by providing a template for the content and structure of a product record, ONIX has helped to stimulate the introduction of better internal information systems, capable of bringing together all the ‘metadata’ needed for the description and promotion of new and backlist titles. In some countries, this template is used in data quality accreditation schemes. The same core ONIX data can also be used to produce advance information sheets, catalogues and other promotional material, to feed publisher websites, and to meet the needs of the wider supply chain.

For ‘downstream’ supply chain partners, ONIX for Books means more efficient and rapid loading of up-to-date product information into internal or customer-facing systems, with less need for manual intervention and much lower risk of error. It reduces the need to deal with multiple proprietary data formats, and hence reduces support costs. And by enabling third parties such as trade associations of data aggregators to develop metrics for data quality and timeliness, it encourages the overall improvement of the data available throughout the supply chain.

Experience also shows that implementing ONIX tends to go hand in hand with a greater focus on the commercial value of metadata as a driver of discoverability, conversion and ultimately, sales. A 2016 Nielsen study that demonstrates the relationship between improved metadata and greater sales is available here (US) and here (UK).

Release history

ONIX originated in a set of guidelines for Online Information Exchange created by the Association of American Publishers, EDItEUR and others in 1999 and published in Jan 2000. These guidelines were developed into a full standard specification by EDItEUR and resulted in ONIX for Books Release 1.0, published a few months later. This was followed closely by Releases 1.1, 1.2 and 1.2.1, each building on experience with early implementations as ONIX matured into a metadata framework encompassing standardised terminology, controlled vocabularies and an increasingly comprehensive file format for data exchange. These early releases are no longer supported, and should not be used.

Release 2.0 was published in 2001, and a backwards-compatible Release 2.1 was issued in 2003. Since then there have been a number of minor revisions to add functionality which had been requested by specific groups. The last of these intended for global use was in 2006 – 2.1 revision 03 – and the latest was in late 2010 – 2.1 revision 04 for use only in Japan. A significant but decreasing proportion of current usage remains based on Release 2.1, but EDItEUR support for all revisions of 2.1 was ‘sunsetted’ at the end of 2014 (with limited ‘twilight’ and ‘moonlight’ support for 2.1-specific codelists for a further two years after that). Release 2.1 should not be used for new implementations, and current 2.1 users are strongly advised to transition to 3.0. (For those unable to migrate promptly, and especially those with failures in production systems due to the removal of support for online DTD and XSD validation, EDItEUR has published a workaround that enables ONIX 2.1 systems to be maintained locally but this is intended only as a short-term solution.)

A major new version, Release 3.0, was published in 2009, with a handful of corrections to 3.0 issued in October 2010. A minor update issued in January 2012, 3.0.1, added functionality particularly for use in East Asia. A number of further updates 3.0.2–3.0.6 and the most recent 3.0.7 in late 2019 enhanced many parts of the message format.

The number of implementations of Release 3.0 is steadily growing, both in countries where 2.1 was previously used extensively and in countries where use of ONIX is brand new. New implementors should focus solely on this release of the standard – and ideally on its latest revision, and some key data recipients will no longer accept ONIX 2.1 data. Importantly, Amazon (globally) announced in late 2019 that it would not accept 2.1 data for print products after December 2020, and a similar deadline for digital products is expected to follow soon after.

For the foreseeable future, any new revisions will be based on, and be backwards-compatible with, Release 3.0, and we strongly encourage all users to implement it as early as possible. 

Development, maintenance and support

Maintenance and support are provided through EDItEUR’s ONIX Support Team and through a network of national user groups in a number of countries. Strategic development issues are managed through an International Steering Committee which includes representatives of those national groups. Find out more here.

As well as making contact with the appropriate national group, all users are encouraged to sign up to the ONIX for Books implementation mailing list, where problems and suggestions for new functionality can be raised and discussed.

Code lists

Codelists used in ONIX for Books – controlled vocabularies of descriptive terms – are maintained and issued separately from the message schemas, with their own issue number sequence which is independent of release numbering. The codelists form an important part of the agreed semantics (meaning) of an ONIX message. More details, and the latest issue of the codelists, are available here.

Updating ONIX data

Most ONIX exchanges are based on sending complete records, either as new information or to replace information previously supplied. In ONIX 2.1, a separate Supply Update format is provided to enable price and availability detail to be updated without having to send a complete replacement record. In ONIX 3.0, a more flexible and granular approach to updating termed ‘block updates’ is supported, which eliminates the need for a separate and specialized update format.

ONIX users and services directory

A list of a few of the organizations that have implemented ONIX for Books within their business can be found here. The list includes publishers, retailers, logistics companies, software developers and digital services providers, and represents only a small fraction of the organizations using ONIX.


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