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The ONIX for Books Product Information Message 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 rich information about their products. It 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.

As an XML-based standard, each release of ONIX for Books consists of an XML Document Type Definition (DTD) or alternatively an XSD Schema, together with the associated documentation that specifies the data content of a standard ONIX message or data file. 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 registraion, 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, 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 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.

Release history

ONIX for Books Release 1.0 was published in 2000, and was followed by Releases 1.1, 1.2 and 1.2.1. 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.

A major new version, Release 3.0, was published in April 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, 3.0.3, 3.0.4 and the most recent 3.0.5 in late 2018 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 on this version of the standard.

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. ONIX 2.1 was fully supported by EDItEUR until the end of 2014, but users of 2.1 are strongly advised to migrate to version 3.0. For those unable to migrate promptly, 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.

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 is supported, which eliminates the need for a separate and specialized update format.

ONIX users and services directory

A list of some 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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