ONIX Will Help You to Sell More Books

As a publisher, you’ve heard about ONIX-the new standard database for information about your book titles. If you’re like many small publishers, you may be hoping it will go away. After all, this is technical stuff, and we publishers want to spend our time publishing and selling our books.

But ignore it at your peril.

In the not-distant future, most trade sales will become impossible for titles that are not readily available in an ONIX format. And even now, publishers not making use of ONIX are at a competitive disadvantage. That’s a mistake, even for publishers who have come out with only one or two books so far. And there’s good news-creating the database for your books can be easy and cheap!

What is ONIX?

Here’s a short primer on the subject.

ONIX stands for Online Information Exchange. It is an XML database, specifically designed by the book industry-an international group of industry organizations, represented in the US by the Book Industry Study Group (BISG). It has standard fields for each bit of information.

The ONIX standard is designed to accommodate every bit of information about your book that you want others to know. Of course, it has to include basics such as the ISBN, author, binding, pub date, number of pages, and price. But from there, you can add everything else that you’d like the wholesalers, Web sites, bookstores, librarians, and potential buyers to know. For example, you can include detailed descriptions, cover images, reviews, table of contents, and sample chapters.

How Do You Benefit?

It’s a fact that getting this information out, and readily accessible to everybody, is basic to book promotion. The more wholesalers or chain stores know about your book (for example), the easier it is for them to sell it. The more an end consumer knows about your book (from a Web listing, for example), the more likely he or she will be to buy it.

In the past, all this information was distributed on paper. There were book catalogs, flyers, promotional mail, and lots of other items mailed out to spread word about new books. Of course, we still send out such items to try to catch the attention of booksellers, librarians, and others. But those are now just attention grabbers-nobody files them away to refer to later. When they want the information, they look it up in databases.

Without standardization, this would be a nightmare for publishers. It’s just not practical to develop one set of data about your book titles for Ingram, another for Barnes & Noble, another for Amazon, another for Bowker, and another for the Library of Congress, for example.

That’s why ONIX was developed. Put together one database, in ONIX format, and submit it to every organization that needs it. They don’t all want the same information-but everything is there, and their computers can easily find the information they want. If you include lots of information, then they’ll have lots of information about your books. If not, they won’t.

In fact, one you have the database, you’ll find a lot of your own uses for it. You can use it to keep your own Web site up to date, for example, or your book catalog. No more entering the same information over and over again in different places.

How to Create an ONIX Database

Fortunately, you don’t have to be a technical genius to create a database. There are services that will do it for you. Or, you can do it yourself with a piece of software that lets you fill in all the information in user-friendly fields, and all the coding is done behind the scenes, to be submitted individually to each of your trading partners.

My company, in cooperation with Lawrence Information Systems, publishes the software known as Couplet, a $99 program that makes easy work of this. For a complete and constantly updated listing of other options and services-as well as huge amounts of additional information about ONIX, go to the BISG site at http://bisg.org/?page=ONIXforBooks .

Copyright Steve Carlson. Used with permission. Steve Carlson has been co-owner and publisher at Upper Access Inc., Book Publishers, since 1986. He has long been active in the small-press movement, and currently serves on the board of directors of PMA, the Independent Book Publishers Association. Since 1989, he has also published business software for the book industry-most notably Publishers’ Assistant and the new Couplet. His Web sites are www.upperaccess.com and www.pubassist.com . He can be reached at steve@upperaccess.com or 802-482-2988.