Absurdity

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Onix in the UK

I occasionally get asked by Nielsen Bookdata in the UK how our UK clients are getting along with the Onix standard as they would like more of them to be submitting files to them.

As anyone who knows me or indeed reads this blog I really believe in the importance of getting complete and timely title information into the publishing supply chain. I spend a great deal of my own time and money trying to help as many (particularly smaller) publishers as I can. I give up days to help sort out their data; travel to all kinds of places to give seminars; give away free software etc etc.  I’m not sure short of actually doing it for them I can do more.

But still only a relatively small amount of publishers of ours who could generate Onix actually do so. And, as anyone who has used our products can testify we really can’t make it any easier. Simply, fill in the relevant fields and click a button that says ‘Create Onix’. I mean seriously what more can we do? By the way if you don’t believe me just go to our website and download for yourself.


So, why don’t they? And what should I say in my response to Nielsen’s latest enquiry received yesterday? Well, the truth is things have changed a little. At least now they have some inkling of what Onix actually is and a vague understanding that they should be doing it. But, further than that I couldn’t say that they have much interest.

At the moment, in the UK we have probably half a dozen or so publishers currently installing our software. Their reasons for installing range from a requirement to have a scheduling tool or somewhere to hold their rights information or more commonly simply to have all their publishing information in one place.

In short, they just don’t care enough to put it to the top of their list of priorities.

So what can change this? I assume that Nielsen; Bowker et al are keen on this because it will in the longer term make their life easier and save them some money in re keying and other costs. If this is the case (i.e that there is some tangible benefit for them) then there should be some clearly identifiable gain for the publisher. Nowhere on the Nielsen; BIC or e4books websites are what the publishers get out of all the hassle of sorting out sometimes 20 years of conflicting title information clearly articulated. And since both Nielsen and Bowker still accept title information in just about any form (ranging from photocopied AIs to Excel spreadsheets) why bother going through the nightmare of trying to conform?

Both these organisations have thus far failed to produce clear documentation about what they actually want or even to publicise the documentation they do have. I spoke to four UK publishers yesterday on this very issue and they didn’t even know Nielsen had a Word document containing their criteria.

So, the leap for publishers is from providing photocopied AIs stuffed in an envelope to producing an XML document with many times the number of fields they would normally provide and on top of that sometimes formatted and using terminology that is quite frankly alien to their business. And even if they do manage to do this and submit a file they get a list of feedback which generally serves to confuse and tells them they have send a telephone number in the wrong form (eg, +44 instead of 0044). They throw their hands up in the air and try and get on with the business of getting books out of the door and vow to revisit the issue when they have more time.

What to do?

1) First of all motivate the publisher by giving them some sort of tangible benefit to which they can relate. For example, if you don’t do this your title information will enter the supply chain 3 months later than everyone else; charge them for not doing it to reflect your re keying and other costs; demonstrate the real increases in sales they could see from getting their title information into the supply chain in a more complete manner. Anyway, you get the idea. Perhaps a UK equivalent of the BISG annual ‘Making Information Pay’ event with some suitably scary stats (i.e include a cover image and you are 70% more likely to sell your book).

2) Just make it easier to understand. For all the time and money BIC have spent on this they still have no real practical help for publishers to step up to the plate. The documentation produced by us and Snowbooks for free is of more use in de mystifying the whole process. So, come on BIC produce some step by step guides; maybe some short video; even a podcast. Oh, and talk about time and costs – please.

3) Perhaps, it is just too much of a leap. So, maybe have a half way stage? A little like the excellent Booknet Canada started by first getting all the publishers to submit their title information using a basic spreadsheet with a core group of field and then worked up from there. Or maybe an Onix Lite as an interim step. Dunno, just a thought.

4) Publishers themselves must put more effort in to try and get their title information together in some electronic form and to learn a little about the standard. I realise this is hard when resource is often so scarce but this title information is having to be keyed in somewhere (eg, Quark AIs; Word documents etc etc.).

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Filed under: Onix, Publishing

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