We've been getting quite a few questions from publishers about ONIX 3. So, we went straight to the horse’s mouth and asked Graham Bell of Editeur what exactly ONIX 3 will bring to the eBook party. Here is part 2 of the 2 part interview. (Click here for Part 1.)
Vearsa: What about that new stuff then? What led to the update in ONIX from 2.1 to 3.0?
Graham Bell (GB): Going back to 2008 when most of the work was done, one of the prime motivations was the spring cleaning I mentioned. ONIX 2.1 dates from 2003, or from 2001 if you allow that any ONIX 2.0 message is also valid 2.1). Through several minor revisions, it had accumulated a lot of dirt in the corners. Just adding new stuff can't go on forever.
And there was a need for change. In ONIX 2.0 and 2.1, e-books were something of an afterthought (unsurprising, given they date from 2001 and 2003). By 2008, it was clear that e-books and other digital products would form a huge part of our future business, that international trading would be more important, and that at some point, 2.1 would not be enough. Above all, ONIX 3.0 reflects close on a decade of experience.
The release of 3.0 (in 2009) provided a better framework to which could be added the new requirements – information about DRM or about e-book rentals, complex international distribution arrangements or proper multi-lingual metadata for example. And 3.0 was designed from the outset with the idea that parts of the metadata for a product could be updated. These 'block updates' aren't used much yet, but they answer the criticism that the huge volume of metadata is a problem – you can fix the spelling of the author's name without sending all your marketing text again.
The other aspect of 3.0 that's improved is the documentation and some of the software tools. For XML developers, ONIX 3.0 has XSD and RNG schemas, and a Schematron is in development. The specification is clearer, and there is a global Implementation and Best Practice Guide from EDItEUR that aims to make ONIX messages much more consistent and interoperable (different guidance given in different countries led to the growth of different 'dialects' of 2.1).
Vearsa: In practical terms, what does this mean for the industry?
GB: One of the key choices back in 2008 was whether an update would be compatible with what went before. Essentially, should the new version be a 2.2 or a 3.0? And the decision taken by the ONIX International Steering Committee, which consists of trade groups like BIC, BISG and their equivalents around the world, was "3.0" - you can't do the spring cleaning of deprecated elements, the simplifications, the restructuring without breaking compatibility.
But inevitably, this means a protracted period of transition. There are thousands of ONIX implementations around the world, but publishers, the various intermediaries and retailers can't all switch overnight – the inertia is immense. Many organisations were reluctant to invest in an update in the midst of a financial downturn, and when technical teams were struggling with the challenges of the e-book market. In those circumstances, it's easy for managers to say "ONIX 2.1 is good enough, we'll stick with it for another year." And that works for a year or two – but it's not a long term option.
In an effort to concentrate attention on this, in January 2012, the International Steering Committee put 2.1 on three years notice. Plenty of notice was important, because organisations need time to plan and budget for the migration.The 'sunset' date for ONIX 2.1 is at the end of this calendar year, and anyone using ONIX 2.1 now (plus the few remaining 2.0 users out there) should at the very least have a realistic plan to migrate to 3.0.
I should emphasise that 2.1 won't just stop working at the end of December 2014. But the level of support will be reduced, new issues of the codelists will ignore 2.1, and some of the XML tools EDItEUR supports will be withdrawn. And there will inevitably be a few data recipients who'll demand 2.1 for a few years to come – but it will become harder and harder for them to justify that position.
Vearsa: What does this mean for publishers? As a publisher, what should be my next step?
GB: Most publishers don't develop their own ONIX software, they buy in an application or a service from a third party. So they'll look to those third parties for updates. Most vendors are either ready now or are close to being ready – you'll find several listed on EDItEUR's ONIX Users and Services Directory.
Where a publisher does use an in-house application, then some IT development will be required. I can't say how much effort it will require, as the details vary from publisher to publisher, but a few person-weeks for a developer that understands both ONIX and the application in question might be a reasonable first guess. It almost certainly won't require any radical restructure of the underlying database, and most of the work done on 2.1 will be reusable.
Vearsa: Thanks Graham. Finally, what should our customers do if they want to know more?
GB: The first stop should always be the EDItEUR website. EDItEUR develops and manages the ONIX standard, and our site is where you find all the documentation and key guidance documents. Funding for this comes from EDItEUR members – ONIX is free for everyone to use, but membership of EDItEUR directly supports our standards work on Thema, EDIFACT, EDItX and ONIX for the benefit of the whole supply chain and book publishing community. Let us know (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you want to receive the bimonthly EDItEUR newsletter to keep you abreast of our activities. You can also e-mail specifiic questions about ONIX to email@example.com (do mention EPUB DIRECT in your note, please, and be patient for a reply).
In developing ONIX, EDItEUR is guided by the ONIX International Steering Committee that represents various national ONIX user groups around the world (there are about 20 or so groups, and there's an incomplete list on the website). BIC facilitates the UK national group, BISG the US group, through their metadata committees, and they also run ONIX training courses in association with EDItEUR.
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