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AAP Unveils E-retail Guidelines
Paul Hilts -- 1/24/00

The Association of American Publishers last Wednesday introduced Guidelines for Online Information Exchange (ONIX), a set of 148 standardized elements that describe every aspect of a book, from title and author's name to availability and cover pictures, to help make selling books online easier.

AAP president Pat Schr der kicked off the ONIX conference at the McGraw-Hill headquarters in New York City, saying, "The Guidelines are a vocabulary for information exchange. They do not require either the publisher or the bookseller to adopt a new data model or a new way of sending and receiving messages. They identify 148 pieces of information ““the data elements ““and offer a definition of each so everyone knows what everyone else means when these elements are used. Of these elements, 42 are designated as the 'kernel'““the minimum recommended information that every publisher should supply about a book. For each element, the guidelines define a format and recommend a set of codes that systematically cover all variations within the book industry."

Brian Green, the executive director of U.K.'s Book Industry Communication and EDItEUR in Europe, described the international support for ONIX, and stressed the importance of getting full cooperation among all industry standards groups, including such organizations as EPICS and the Open eBook Forum. "If each group proposes its own standard," he told PW, "then you haven't got any standard at all." While ONIX d sn't specifically address e-books, because both ONIX and B are based on XML, ONIX's founders expect to see the two groups extend to cover each other within a few months.

Christopher Burns, a consultant hired by AAP to help speed development of the Guidelines, said, "A book jacket is already a very efficient way to communicate information about a book--we've established that when a book is presented with its metadata [information about the book], it sells eight times as many copies as the same text presented without metadata. The Guidelines are just a way to provide a 'jacket' when the book is sold online, where customers can't necessarily see the book itself."

In introducing a panel of publishers, online booksellers, and distributors describing how they

already are using ONIX, Carol Risher, AAP's

v-p of copyright and new technology, noted that ONIX went from first proposal to finished guidelines in eight weeks.

Two of the panel members, Laura Dawson from barnesandnoble.com and Cindy Cunningham from Amazon.com, agreed on the importance of standardized methods of referring to books. "Some people think that because we are business competitors, we wouldn't share that data, because it might give us a competitive advantage," Cunningham said. "But believe me, the competition isn't in that basic data, but in price, availability and other services.

"Online selling has exposed the warts in our data," she continued. "We want the publishers to own their data, and to take it seriously. If we all put the effort into making sure the data is reliable, the whole industry wins."

For copies of the guidelines or more information about ONIX, check the AAP's site: www.publishers.org/onix.htm.

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