Home » Community » Articles » BookSmarts Podcast (ep. 40): Tom Richardson on ONIX Best Practices & Standards

Tom Richardson has been the Bibliographic Manager for BookNet Canada since 2008 and currently serves on the BISG Metadata Committee. As BookNet Canada’s ONIX subject specialist, Tom joins the BookSmarts Podcast to discuss ONIX best practices in detail, as well as some of the issues seen with how sales rights and market data is being delivered from a Canadian perspective.

BookNet Canada is a non-profit organization comparable to BISG or BIC that develops technology, standards, and education to serve the Canadian book industry. They also represent the ONIX/Thema National Group for Canada and are heavily involved in industry standards development.

Learn more about BookNet Canada at www.booknetcanada.ca. If you’re interested in learning more of Tom’s perspective regarding ONIX best practices and standards, subscribe to their eNews and visit the BookNet Canada blog.

What is BookNet Canada as well as your role in the organization?

BookNet Canada would be comparable to BISG, or BIC in the UK. We’re a standards organization that represents the ONIX national group for Canada or the Thema national group for Canada. So we’re heavily into standards. We’re more known for our sales data aggregation, which is basically your book data, we do for Canada. So that’s our primary product. BookNet Canada is a not-for-profit. So we are not like Nielsen or other commercial companies doing this sort of thing. We’re doing it as a service to the industry, but it’s also our major generator of revenue. So unlike, say, BISG, which is just a membership-driven organization reliant on its, we actually have some income from some of our stuff. That gives us more flexibility. And we, you know, there is also government funding in Canada. So we’re kind of quite a different organization. We’re involved in on several different things that in general support these general concepts. So beyond sales data, one of our primary product and a fabulous, fabulous tool for everyone.

We aggregate ONIX metadata, which we use to sodalite come look at what we’re doing. What’s happening in the marketplace. So we get quite a lot of US data. We have over 4 million records. It’s not an insignificant amount, a lot more 2.1 data than 3.0 still. And it’s kind of a problem that I think other companies also have but we’re also having trouble with our 3.0 to some degree. I mean, I am sympathetic to companies who say they have difficulty, because we’ve been able to load 3.0 data for over a decade and yet we still have problem aggregating. Don’t ask me why. Anyway. So we are sympathetic to people in the industry who have problems and we engage in these types of activities and parts that we understand better.

The Biblio share data is also used to underline one of our other main products, which is catalyst, our E catalog system. Your Edelweiss is our catalyst, which is used heavily in the Canadian industry. Again, it’s been a good solid rendition of that type of thing and that’s basically it. I’m the standards person, and the ONIX subject specialists, so you can always count on me too. I’ve drunken the editor kool-aid deeply and spout it off at a moment’s notice. Which is what I’m planning to do today,

What are ONIX best practices and what are the issues you observe with sales rights and market data?

Well, unfundamentally there is a long going; it started with 2.1 and it’s continued to do where systematically most companies, well, not most companies. There’s quite a variation to say most companies, but a lot of companies, this substantial grouping of countries. If you put it in Biblio share terms, I mean, if I look at our 3.0 data, 10% of the data might be doing some of this more or less right. And that does mean that approximately 90% of the data is simply not doing it right. I’m describing something that’s real, but I’m no by no means describing every company. I’m by no means saying everyone’s wrong. I’m just simply saying is if you look at data from England, you look at data from Australia, you look at data from the US, you look at data from Canada too; we all are doing some portions of this and that is, well, I’ll just give you an example.

I was having a meeting recently, as part of a regular meetings we have with a major US data aggregator who was describing their process where they have problems. When we’re talking with each other, this is an out of market thing. They handle the Canadian market data for some things and that’s what we were interested in getting from them. Now, if people give them data without a Canadian currency, or with a Canadian currency, it causes problems. That means that they are using a currency code as a proxy for market state.

That’s something of a problem.

I can see that type of thing coming up in Biblioshare quite a lot, because say a US company will be giving us data and that’s all grand and if they’re a distributor, they dropped the company or the company shifts distribution and they don’t drop the Canadian currency from their feet. Because no company does. I mean, if you take a big Canadian distributor and the reverse situation where they have a loosely US client, they don’t drop the US currency either. But if you’re using currency as a proxy, then that means that they continue to send that data to Canada, because that’s how their system is set up. They don’t drop the data, but they continue to send it. So now we have data overriding other companies datas and you control for it, you do what you have to do. But it’s a proxy statement. They’re not doing the data properly.

The other place where it really shows up is in sales rights. Now, EDItEUR, bless their souls has designated these sales rights as being a statement for the publisher’s rights. And I don’t think I’ve ever understood it. I’m experimenting with like a slight variation on their explanation. They like to talk about exploiting it, the data, or the publishers exploiting of the data. And I think that the better way of saying it may be that copyright holders, as a general rule of thumb, approach a publisher and make a deal with them, and then the publisher engages in a series of business transactions. And sales rights is the territorial expression of those sales rights that they have exploited. So that’s what EDItEUR means. It means what the publisher is doing to create a territory for where they actually handle this ISBN.

So it doesn’t reference the actual contracts, it represents their contracts with other people. Now, their contracts with other people should properly appear in the product supply statement. I’m speaking in Tallinn 3.0 at the moment, so property should appear in the product supply statement and it should be assigned a market area. It’s dead simple.

Most companies who are misusing sales rights in most markets, in the English language markets that are misusing it. If they simply mapped their statement from sales rights and put it down into the market section and provided as a market statement, we’ll be doing what EDItEUR’s always wanted. And what EDItEUR’s always wanted is, say the global publication date.

Remember, the global publication date, the section for publication date, is supposed to be a global publication date. It’s not supposed to be a market date. It’s supposed to be the global date. Similarly, the global status date, the 0.4 in the publishing section is supposed to be a global status date. It represents the originating publisher’s intention for this book. And if everybody handled it that way, people in other markets would have a lot easier time matching data, because the data would all be coming in from whatever source it came from, all the same way. Now, then the market statements will be coming into the market area, where there is the ability to provide market by market a publication date to publisher status and all these other things. So we could, instead of supplying data at the Global Publication Date section, and all that dividing the market statement.

Now, people have a real problem with this whole concept that maybe we could just do something differently. But it would solve a whole lot of problems. I mean, Canadian publishers. Guess what? We’re a separate market. we will probably have separate dates for a large number of products. Us distributors don’t, who may be shipping back into Canada, that type of thing, simply don’t recognize the Canadian dates and stuff like this and it causes some small friction in terms what’s going on here. And if that’s just kind of like an irritant; it’s not that serious. Because in some ways the Canadian market is is not so separate from the US market that these are huge differences in dates and things like this. If you move over to Australia, you move over to like the UK, you move over to more distances where actual shipping times evolve, it gets a bit sillier. And you can see this all the time in the US data that comes up to us that came from the UK, all the dates, all kinds of buggery, the whole thing is not necessarily handled properly. And it would all be solved quite nicely by simply the US market attaching a market statement about product supply statement for the US market, maybe a separate one for Canada.

These things would probably simplify things. It’s fairly common for, I mean, I’m gonna speak more to the US market, because we get way more US market data than anything else. But there are large distributors in the US, who will label everything as being non-exclusive sales rights. 

Non-exclusive sales rights mean you’re not the only person that can sell them. Anybody else can too. 

So you’re shipping up data to a foreign market, where you’re saying I want exclusive rights and you’re providing a single product supply statement. I mean, I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with this. It doesn’t mean anything, it doesn’t help me. But what will then happen if they, say, drop the Canadian market from, the soul marker in my data will be that the CA in the sales words gets dropped and they just they continue to carry Canadian price and they just threw up the CA from it as if that’s supposed to mean something. I have an incoherent sales rights statement to begin with. Then someone drops a CA, and I’m supposed to program for that? I don’t know how to program for that. Okay, I can’t create good data from that, nor can other retailers here and it causes problems. And, quite frankly, it’s quite clear to me that they intentionally are using the most ambiguous form of the data that they can in order to create a kind of slurryish effect of maybe they have rights, maybe they don’t, maybe they might get some sales, a little this, a little that when there may be a Canadian rights holder who has legitimate rights to. It’s just sloppy. It’s just crappy things.

Now, the optimistic side to all this, I’ve made my complaints. If we simply handled the data properly, what’s the one thing that we know about metadata that actually makes a difference for sales? Accurate metadata will sell books, do we not? We can agree on that point.

So did you know that if you go to another market, there will be people in that market with spreadsheets that will probably have at least the accurate information for their market for the books that are coming in from out of market. Go figure. They’re called sales forces, they are the branch plants of multinational companies, there are all sorts of people who would have this data, you know, that they would actually have a representation of that data. It’s actually very easy to make a flat follow to that data. Because generally speaking, that type of data is relatively simple. It’s not a big problem to do. So you could have this stuff in spreadsheets, and you could be done. Now, how hard would it be to take that material and map it to a block six, where you’re just doing the simple basic metadata, and things like that.

So all these companies with centralized data, who can’t handle, can’t possibly handle an extra code, or doing something differently, or otherwise, if you just let the people out of market handle their own block six, this would be genuine development work. It’s not like saying just take your sales rates. You’d actually would have to change things. But it’s not difficult to do because editors actually designed the entire thing to enable you to do this. You could take the block six, let the end market people do it, they could ship it back to you. They could maybe distribute the ONIX, maybe they just take the ID section from the top of the thing. Take it to the block six and send it over to the retailer who uses it instead of your block six information. You could set up the entire thing, so that you took more accurate information and applied it market by market instead of like doing all this approximation stuff.

It wouldn’t cost that much to do and would be the one thing you could possibly do that might actually guarantee you better sales as opposed to like a whole lot of other things you could do. 

Talk about how issues with ONIX Best Practices affect sales

I mean, it’s something that we’re working on. BISG is redoing its best practices and we’re talking about getting a statement into it, more or less, asking people to start doing this for those reasons, just taking the opportunity to maybe promote that. I’m not sure if it’s going to make it in because what will happen is it will go in front of the BISG metadata committee, and people would have to agree to it and this opens up some really interesting questions like, I think in general, you would say for any standard, it is a best practice to follow the standard. And I will be the first person to admit that because of the complexity of ONIX that I don’t believe that you can say, it’s as simple as like an ISBN, where there is a great way to handle an ISBN and a wrong way to do it. And people do abuse ISBNs all the time. But you know, ONIX is pretty complicated and has a lot of moving parts. I don’t think you can quite make the same level of 100%, there is just one best practice.

But in this case, where it is a primary tool, they have communication, and they have designated sales rights to be one thing and a market to be another thing. Sales rights is not a market statement for most data. That isn’t how ONIX is designed. So you can’t really at some point deny that ONIX, as a standard, should have best practice principles applied to it and that would be that you should follow their definition for say, book status, publisher status, that type of thing. You don’t use your code list. You map your code list to their code list, and then the people on the other map it out. And that’s how you make your communication work.

You can’t do the sales rights, pretending that, well, sales rights are something that I own, therefore, I put my statement in here. You have to do what they want you to do, which is to provide it in a market statement over here, instead of where they want you to provide a publisher statement. I mean, you know, just because they labeled it sales rights doesn’t mean you get to abuse it. 

I don’t really think that this is necessarily going to be easily passed because, frankly, most companies in the US when you say this to them, there’s a real home market mentality about US data, where the US is the world. The US home market is the world. They don’t need to pay attention to that type of stuff and when you think in home market types, and you say, well, I own sales rights. I put my sales rights here here. It’s really not that easy to get a US publisher to acknowledge that anything else is possible, sir.

And I speak that as a Canadian publisher, because I think quite often people will like look at what BookNet Canada does and say there’s a weird thing going on in Canada. There’s nothing going on in Canada that’s different from what’s going on to us but we maybe have drank the EDItEUR Kool Aid more heavily than you get from the in the US market and we’re more willing to question some of the things like this.

We have like a major retailer in Canada who complains to us about their inability to get dates properly. Now, they don’t complain to US publishers about that, because they make arrangements with the publisher to get the information from them and they deal with them source by source. I think that’s what they must do. Because whenever I say this to a US publisher, they say, they don’t complain to us. But they do complain to BookNet about it. So I do know that, say, dates are kind of a problem. And not surprisingly, when they set up their system recently to like, do things, they mapped it to look for the market date, because they figured that’s where we’ll get the accurate metadata. I mean, there is a need when you go to other markets for this data and there are retailers in those markets looking for.