As more book sales migrate online, publishers and their trading partners are increasingly focused on discovery—making sure that readers are aware of and able to access books that meet their interests and needs.

Publishers are particularly challenged to devise a better way to improve consumer discovery because Onix, the metadata standard they currently use, was developed to inform trading partners (such as retailers and distributors) about their titles. That same metadata has been adapted to help consumers find books online, but it is not structured in a way that works well on the Web.

That’s a problem the Book Industry Study Group is trying to solve. A BISG metadata working group is developing recommendations for building Web pages with rich linked metadata that will improve book discoverability. The group is using a vocabulary created and maintained by, a nonprofit whose work is sponsored by Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and Yandex, a Russian Internet company that operates the largest search engine in that country. is charged with creating, maintaining, and promoting frameworks for structured data on the Internet, on Web pages, and even in email messages.

BISG says its working group is “focused on identifying relationships between key Onix elements and” to enhance the discoverability of books in Web browsers. The group is also working to create an mapping to facilitate re-purposing existing metadata.

The BISG working group is chaired by Graham Bell, who is also executive director of Editeur, the organization that oversees the Onix standard. Within BISG, Bell has been working with a small group of publishing volunteers to answer two questions: What metadata is most useful for discovery, and what’s the best way to map metadata to the components of The result of their efforts will be a BISG white paper that explains how book publishers can use to improve the way that books are discovered online.

Bell sees the BISG work as “very relevant to solving the problems publishers face [with discovery].” He says, “It provides a pragmatic way to get search engines, and ultimately readers, to notice Web pages and the books those Web pages describe.”

The Onix standard does describe books in structured ways, but the structure was developed and has been refined outside of the work done to improve search and discovery on the Web. This is natural: the bulk distribution of Onix data, typically in feeds, serves wholesalers and retailers, not individual consumers.

There’s no need to replace Onix, which serves a critical role in the book industry supply chain. The BISG working group is mapping Onix data to the standards already published by, so that publishers can take advantage of the same discovery tools that guide Web content structures in other industries. Along the way, the working group has found some book-specific gaps, such as accounting for international rights. Within the standard, there is currently no clear path to describe international rights, as such rights are more or less unique to publishing.

Elements can be added to, but sometimes this requires negotiating with the organization. is effectively a proprietary standard, and the BISG committee continues to explore what it will need to do to ensure that supports the specific interests of book publishing.

In practice, this means that publishers will likely see a progressive implementation of standards. Once the working group releases its findings, publishers will be able to present many elements of the Onix standard as rich linked metadata. As the standard evolves, so too will the functionality offered to book publishers.

Bell says that the working group efforts could provide publishers with a fairly sophisticated strategy for search engine optimization. Noting that “well-structured metadata scores more highly” in search engine results, he adds that the working group is operating “where metadata meets the Web.” These days, that’s where books meet the Web as well.