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ONIX for Books

ONIX for Books is the international standard for representing and communicating book industry product information in electronic form. ONIX for Books was developed and is maintained by EDItEUR, jointly with Book Industry Communication (U.K.) and the Book Industry Study Group (U.S.), and has user groups across the world.

In April 2009, EDItEUR announced the release of a major new version of the ONIX for Books standard: ONIX 3.0. This release of ONIX is the first since 2001 that is not backwards-compatible with its predecessors and, more importantly, provides a means for improved handling of digital products. A revised version (3.0.1) was subsequently released in January 2012.



What is ONIX for Books?

ONIX is an acronym for ONline Information EXchange. ONIX for Books refers to a standard format that publishers can use to distribute electronic information about their books to wholesale, e-tail and retail booksellers, other publishers, and anyone else involved in the sale of books. ONIX enables book information to be communicated between different organizations even if they have different technical infrastructures and business needs. It isn't a database, but provides a standard XML template for organizing data storage.

Why was ONIX for Books created?

ONIX was developed as a solution to two modern problems:

  • The need for richer book data online
  • The widely varying format requirements for receiving this data used by the major book wholesalers and retailers

With the advent of the Internet and the explosion of online book sales, the book industry found itself in the following quandary: how to meet the needs of booksellers to provide information to book buyers about the books they wish to purchase. In the brick and mortar world, the jacket cover of a book contains much of the promotional information about that book; cover design, synopsis, reviews, author biography, and more. This information (the book metadata) draws the potential reader into a book and helps to sell it. Online, the physical book has been replaced with a web page devoted to the book that can be designed to carry all the rich information of the jacket cover, plus audio and video files pertaining to the book. Research has proven that the more information customers have about a book, the more likely they are to buy it. ONIX provides a way to transmit this information in a clean and seamless way across multiple trading partner relationships.

What is the goal of ONIX for Books?

ONIX was specifically created to conquer the challenge of getting the information-rich promotional material about each book from publishers to booksellers when each major industry database company (such as Ingram, Bowker, and Amazon) had a different format preference for receiving the data. The lack of standard formatting made it difficult and time-consuming for publishers to format and exchange their book information with multiple trading partners. The goal of ONIX, therefore, is to standardize the transmission of product information so that wholesalers, retailers, and others in the supply chain will all be able to accept information electronically transferred in ONIX format.

What can ONIX for Books tell us?

ONIX can describe many things about a book, including:

  • title
  • author
  • ISBN
  • price
  • availability
  • blurb, reviews, and extracts
  • BISAC Subject Codes
  • territorial rights
  • links to website and book cover images
  • ...and much more! 

  • How did ONIX for Books originate?

    Throughout 1999, the Association of American Publishers (AAP) worked together with the major wholesalers, online retailers, and book information service providers to create a universal, international format through which all publishers, regardless of their size, could exchange information about books. The group unveiled ONIX 1.0 in January 2000.

    What organizations are currently responsible for ONIX for Books?

    ONIX is published and maintained by EDItEUR in association with BISG in the U.S. and BIC in the U.K. The latest version of ONIX is referred to as ONIX for Books or ONIX International. The U.S. book industry provides technical input and support for ONIX through BISG's Metadata Committee and BISG events.

    How does ONIX for Books work?

    The standard allows for a publisher to use either of two standards: Level 1 or Level 2. Level 1 contains all the information in Level 2. Standard data elements in Level 1 are targeted to publishers who have not established an in-house database of product information. Level 2 is targeted for publishers where Level 1 data elements are not deemed adequate. The ONIX standard defines both a list of data fields about a book and how to send that data in an "ONIX message." ONIX specifies over 200 data elements, each of which has a standard definition, so that everyone can be sure they're referring to the same thing. Some of these data elements, such as ISBN, author name, and title, are required. Others, such as book reviews and cover image, remain optional. While most data elements consist of text (such as a contributor biography), many are multimedia files, such as images and audio files. It is particularly these optional fields, such as excerpts, reviews, cover images, author photos, etc., that lead to more sales online. An ONIX message is a set of data elements defined by "tags" that is written in the computer language XML (eXtensible Markup Language) and that conforms to a specific template, or set of rules, also known as the ONIX DTD (Document Type Definition). The DTD defines, among other things, how to order the data elements, and how the elements are interrelated. Although ONIX specifies over 200 possible data elements, BISG has identified 31 elements as best practice. To view detailed guidelines for all 31 best practice data elements, please click here to download our Product Metadata Best Practices.

    Why does ONIX for Books use XML?

    ONIX uses XML for a number of reasons:

    • XML is optimized for creating complex documents and transmitting and exchanging data between computers
    • XML is text-readable, meaning that humans as well as computers can recognize and read the data. Most tags, which define each book data element, consist of English words or abbreviations. For instance, an ONIX message would tag the Publisher's name as follows: <Publisher>Scribner's</Publisher> and it would be listed or expressed as "Scribner's." These factors make it easier for smaller organizations to design and implement ONIX-compliant systems
    • XML software is inexpensive, meaning that small publishers can use it, which was a major goal of the Metadata Committee

    How is an ONIX for Books message created?

    Creating an ONIX message involves two steps:

    • Organizing the book data into ONIX-specified fields and storing it in a database
    • Using an XML software application and the ONIX DTD (the set of rules) to organize and tag that data

    A single ONIX message may contain data about multiple books.

    How is an ONIX for Books message transmitted/received?

    An ONIX message is transmitted across networks and the Internet the same way other data is. For instance, as an email attachment or by ftp (file transfer protocol). Once an ONIX message is received by an online retailer or partner, the same tools (an XML software application and the ONIX DTD) are used to verify the data's integrity. From that point, the retailer translates that data into what you see on a web page. The matter of how much of the data is displayed on their web page is strictly up to the retailer or site owner.

    What is the future of ONIX for Books?

    The international book industry has made ONIX the accepted means for transferring data between trading partners. Major online booksellers, such as Amazon,, and Borders have adopted ONIX. Major wholesalers and catalog publishers, such as Ingram and R.R. Bowker, have also adopted ONIX. Wider industry acceptance will lead to increased efficiencies in the transfer of book data, which will ultimately benefit book sales. Future issues to be addressed include adding standards for electronic books, video, and incorporating concepts of digital rights. In addition, processes for certifying that transmitted data is valid and correct are being developed. ONIX will continue to evolve as needs are identified.

    Which companies use ONIX for Books in the US?

    There are a number of organizations and individual operations that use ONIX in the US. The following is a list of some, but not all:

    • American Booksellers Association (ABA)
    • Association of American Publishers (AAP)
    • Association of American University Presses (AAUP)
    • American Wholesale Booksellers Association
    • Baker & Taylor
    • Barnes & Noble
    • Bowker
    • Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA)
    • Google
    • Hachette Book Group
    • Harcourt Trade Publishing
    • HarperCollins Publishers
    • Ingram Book Company
    • Library of Congress
    • McGraw-Hill Companies
    • MUZE, Inc.
    • Nielsen BookScan
    • Penguin Group (USA)
    • Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group
    • Simon and Schuster

    To involve your organization, please contact BISG (

    Where can I find the complete ONIX for Books standard?

    Currently, ONIX is published and maintained by EDItEUR in association with BISG in the U.S. and BIC in the U.K. Please click here to find the latest code lists from EDItEUR.

    Where can I go for further information?

    A group called the ONIX for Books implementation forum has been created to allow those implementing ONIX to ask questions of other users and the ONIX Technical Consultants. The forum is open to all current and prospective users of the standards. Please feel free to contact the BISG office ( with any general questions.

    What are further resources for ONIX implementers?


    Who are the ONIX administrators?

    The organizations responsible for the development, promotion and implementation of ONIX within the international book industry are:

    EuropeEDItEUR is an international organization with European origins that coordinates the development, promotion, and implementation of EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) in the books and serials sectors. It helps maintain ONIX for the European and international communities.

    United Kingdom: Book Industry Communication (BIC) is based in the U.K. and was organized and is sponsored by The Publishers Association, The Booksellers Association, The Library Association, and The British Library to develop and promote standards for electronic commerce and communication in the book and serials industry. It helps maintain ONIX for the European and international communities.

    United States: Our organization maintains ONIX for the U.S. publishing industry. As a membership-supported, not-for-profit research organization comprised of several sectors from the publishing community, its goal is to provide accurate and current research information about the industry for its members and others.


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