Tuesday, December 21, 2010


2010, though maybe not the watershed year some were anticipating, has certainly been a year when future patterns for our industry have begun to emerge from the fog. There is no longer any doubt that we are confronting change on a level not seen for many decades. This, combined with recessionary times and financial instability, makes 2011 look to be an exceptionally challenging year.

BIC is very grateful to its members for their support in these past months and we wish them and all our readers a very happy Christmas and an even happier new year.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


Our second joint seminar with NAG on the e4libraries subject headings scheme was held at CILIP yesterday and was a well-attended and stimulating event. Maggie Sumner, the retired librarian - and ex-chair of NAG - who devised the scheme for us a couple of years ago, made an impassioned plea for using the scheme as the basis for online search of library catalogues, and Ian Manson of Infor showed some impressive examples from Dutch and French libraries of how that could work in practice. Carl McInerney of Peters Bookselling Services, whilst making the point that library suppliers had benefited in the past from the variations in library servicing requirements, persuasively argued that now was the time for a 'step change' towards greater standardisation.

Clearly the library sector is entering a period of extreme stress where all options for cost-saving will have to be considered. BIC has long promoted technical excellence and standardisation as being key to a more efficient service; and attempting to establish the e4libraries scheme as a national standard is one part of that process.

Our next step is to produce a revised and updated version of the scheme in the spring - bringing it into line with the new version 2.1 of the main BIC scheme which we have just published - and, at the same time, set up proper governance procedures and a steering committee to provide a formal structure for change requests and implementation support.

Friday, December 10, 2010


One of the biggest challenges we have in BIC is persuading publishers of the need to automate and rationalise the way in which they process digital business in their systems. After all, if digital is going to provide incremental income - or worse, if it's going to make up for lost physical revenues - the systems for dealing with invoicing, sales analysis and royalties have got to be as efficient as they have generally become for printed books. There's nothing to be gained from setting up parallel processes which cope with a short-term problem but add to costs.

It's more than two years since BIC published a business case for standardising sales reporting; but the arguments are still as valid as ever. For a long time not much happened - and it was clear that publishers were manually processing sales reports from various vendors and intermediaries in a bewildering range of formats - and with equally bewildering variations in timings and reliability.

However, the profile of this issue has been dramatically raised in the US earlier this year with the coming of the 'agency model', making those publishers which had adopted it suddenly and brutally aware of the new obligations on them to account for the digital sales made by their 'agents'. As a direct result, our colleagues at EDItEUR have been working with the Book Industry Study Group to update the EDItX Sales Report message - which we have been recommmending as the industry's standard digital sales reporting mechanism - to take into account US needs. When the new version is released in the early part of the new year, we shall be renewing our efforts to raise awareness of this issue and encourage the industry to coalesce around a single standard for reporting digital sales.

We believe it's one of the most important issues there is for the digital supply chain.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


BIC's publication this week of guidance on compliance with the new ISO 28560 standard for tag structure and content in library RFID is timely. At long last news has come through that the Final Draft International Standard is about to go out to ballot on a two-month timetable and should be published by the middle of 2011.

It's been an uncomfortable few months for the library RFID community. The standard has been disgracefully delayed by purely editorial matters - it's been technically stable for a year or so - and though some libraries have been asking for full compliance with it in their tender documents it hasn't been easy for suppliers to guarantee it.

There are some hopeful signs now. The compliance document spells out exactly what libraries need and suppliers should provide. The RFID Alliance, a grouping of the leading RFID companies, is examining the options for testing compliance. The issues still outstanding from the UK data model - the UK profile of the standard - which BIC published last year are near to being resolved. When that is finalised, we shall be publishing full guidance notes on the use of the data model. And in the new year we shall be publishing - in collaboration with the National Acquisitions Group - an explanatory template for RFID tender documentation to help libraries ask the right questions and get the solutions they want and need.

At the end of this road is a standard for interoperability in library RFID and best practice policies and guidelines which will help the library RFID community to comply with it. That should spell the beginning of the end to the proprietary solutions which have bedevilled the industry since libraries first embraced RFID technology. Not only will libraries have much more freedom of choice in the tags, software and hardware they buy but also open up new opportunities for using RFID to enhance library operations.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Despite the snow, which swirled around the top floor of the RIBA building in Portland Place all afternoon, and the competing FutureBook Conference and the attractions of Online at Olympia, we attracted a good and appreciative audience for our latest digital seminar yesterday: Confronting the realities of digital change.

Speaker after speaker emphasised the point that the digital business has now grown up and is now something that has to be dealt with on a practical basis. Among the excellent presentations, George Walkley's keynote produced some spectacular statistics about the exponential growth of online content while, more soberly, Eddie Powell of lawyers Fladgate reminded delegates of the potential legal minefields in the agency model and territorial rights management. It was illuminating stuff.

For those unable to attend the presentations are to be found here.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


The International ISBN Agency's guidelines and FAQs for the assignment of ISBNs to e-books do not amount to any change in the advice that each version of an e-book should be assigned a separate ISBN; but they do give valuable advice on DRM and apps which has not been available before. They also support BIC's own guidelines in emphasising those situations where a unique ISBN may not be needed.

BIC has consistently supported the policy of the International ISBN Agency, not because we consider the ISBN standard to be sacrosanct, but because we see dangers in a less rigorous assignment of identifiers, confusion caused and opportunities missed.

The crucial point in Agency's document is the sentence which reads 'Publications need separate ISBNs if anyone in the supply chain needs to identify them separately'. Too many of the identification strategies we have seen adopted have failed to take into account the needs of trading partners and other intermediaries; and have jeopardised the golden rule which BIC has promoted for the last decade that publishers - and only publishers - must be responsible for their own metadata. The free-for-all which may follow from downstream assignment of identifiers could cause immeasurable damage to the industry in the future.

Publishers who assign ISBNs to .EPUB source files are making two dangerous assumptions: that repurposing those files for different platforms and devices will not cause confusion and conflict when resold as traded products; and that .EPUB marks the end of file format development for e-books. Good as it would be to think that the e-book market was reaching a level of format and device stability already, it would be rash to believe it.

Unique identification has other benefits than just ensuring that the consumer gets the product he or she expects. The trade desperately wants a reliable and authoritative e-book bestseller list. It probably wants bestseller lists and sales reports by channel too. Publishers who choose to ignore rigorous ISBN assignment to each of the traded products should think about the complexities of extrapolating bestseller lists from inadequate identifiers.

The ISBN is far from perfect as an e-book identifier and we don't underestimate how onerous adopting the ISBN Agency's policy document may be for some. But it's all we have, and complying with the standard now may come to be seen in the future as a very wise move indeed.

Monday, November 29, 2010


The publication of the UK guidelines for ONIX 3.0 this morning marks the end of a long process, which began three years ago with the proposal that BIC should publish nationally-agreed guidelines for suppliers of ONIX (though it was version 2.1 then) rather than just a list of the elements required for accreditation.

They are significant for a number of good reasons:

- they are published with the endorsement of Nielsen, Bowker and BDS;

- they coincide with the point in which a number of major publishers are embarking on ONIX 3.0 development: later than it was originally hoped, it's true, but it looks as if there will be real progress with the new version in 2011;

- they have identified failings in the way in which ONIX has been used to define territorial sales rights in the past, enabled these to be addressed in the ONIX documentation, and opened the way to a common approach internationally;

- they are the work of David Martin, whose huge contribution to BIC over the years has included all our original EDI implementation guidelines, the ONIX specification itself, and much more besides. We in the 'standards community' are much in his debt.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


The more our industry changes the more we become aware of the importance of metadata to the whole business of discovery and search. It's no wonder then that BIC's Product Metadata Group, which reports on the impact of metadata on the whole supply chain, has a longer and longer agenda and an ever-growing number of members. Whether it is identifiers, or the way in which price and availability information is made delivered to customers and consumers, or the latest functionality in ONIX, it is all crucial to the flow of information which is BIC's top priority.

That's why we have begun to put minutes of the group's meetings into the public domain, and you can find the latest ones here.

Monday, November 22, 2010

BIC - NAG e4libraries Subject Scheme Seminar - York 17 November 2010

The audience prepares for Ian Manson of INFOR

The Bar Convent in York was the venue for a BIC - NAG (National Acquisitions Group) seminar on the new e4libraries subject scheme which is now being implemented in UK public libraries.

Delegates from UK public libraries heard a range of speakers covering the e4libraries scheme from the viewpoints of BIC, NAG, Bertrams Library Service, BDS and Infor. Maggie Sumner, author of the scheme, gave an explanatory overview of the scheme pointing out its objectives and benefits. Jennifer Cox of Bromley Libraries, an early adopter of the scheme, gave extremely useful tips on how to implement

A further seminar will be held in London on Wednesday 15th December 2010 so if any librarians are interested in finding out more about the e4libraries scheme they should click here for more information (http://www.bic.org.uk/e4libraries/)

or book online at NAG: here (http://www.nag.org.uk/events/registration.php)

For the full e4libraries scheme, click here (http://www.bic.org.uk/51/E4libraries-Subject-Category-Headings)

So what is the e4libraries subject scheme all about?

The idea is simple - let's enable all public libraries to display their books in broadly the same way as high street bookshops rather than in their own unique ways. This helps customers to find books more easily. The scheme also helps libraries to display logically similar collections of books together in the same place.

Similarly, customers are becoming very used to searching for books on the Internet using subject searching and e4libraries will enable customers to find books more easily on library OPAC online databases.

The scheme has been written by an experienced librarian and a group of experts will ensure that the scheme remains up to date and relevant to the needs of public libraries and their customers. Come along to the London Seminar and find out more!

Many thanks to all the speakers who attended in support of this seminar and all the public librarians for their attendance and excellent questions and discussion. Many thanks to Jane Butler for organising the event.

Friday, November 12, 2010


Here in the UK - but also in a surprising number of other countries around the world, including Australia and soon Spain - BIC's standard subject categories are an entrenched part of the book trade scene. They are one of our most successful endeavours, being used in all sorts of ways by retailers both terrestrial and online.

In North America, though, they have a parallel - but very different - scheme called BISAC. Academic publishers have for years known that they had to use both - or map from one to the other - in order to sell product internationally; but with the growth of online retailers and content aggregators the problem has become one for trade publishers too.

Both BIC and the Book Industry Study Group (our US opposite numbers who manage the BISAC scheme) agree that a single scheme should be our objective, that local schemes have no place in a global information environment; but equally we accept that this will be a long and substantial task - even once we have agreed what it should look like.

Our advice to publishers is therefore to assign both BIC and BISAC codes to all titles as a matter of routine and include both in the product information they put out. We know, however, that we can't persuade publishers to do this unless the tools are available for them to do so quickly and easily.

We are working with BISG to endorse official mappings between the two schemes and to enable the BIC assignment tool which appears on our web site (and is widely used by Nielsen's PubWeb users as well as other publishers) also to display BISAC subject categories. We hope this work will come to fruition within the next month or two. In the meantime Howard Willows of Nielsen, who is the chief begetter and editor of the BIC scheme has produced an overview of the history, scope, rationale and benefits of the BIC scheme; and you can see it here.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


We may be as far away as ever from universal use of radio frequency ID in the trade supply chain, but in the library sector it's now part of the woodwork. CILIP's conference yesterday was the sixth annual event, and although public sector cuts had obviously precluded attendance for some there was still an excellent crowd of interested and committed individuals from the public and academic library communities.

BIC was very much to the fore, with Martin Palmer of Essex Libraries (a member of our operational board) in the chair and our consultants Mick Fortune, Francis Cave and Simon Edwards - and myself - all speaking during the course of the day. The BIC/CILIP RFID in Libraries group has found itself in a pivotal position as the industry moves from the proprietary solutions which have generally prevailed in the past towards a more stable standards-based environment.

Martin Palmer made the point in his closing remarks that all new technologies undergo this shift as they become established and speculated on whether the same may come to be true of the digital supply chain...

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


E4books was one of our most successful campaigns, raising the profile of e-commerce at a crucial period of change and development; but we have decided that so much has happened in our industry since e-Day (1 May 2008) that it's time to move on.

We've been working hard to devise a supply chain accreditation scheme which keeps the flame of e4books alive but also recognises how much has changed. We shall be announcing the details in the next few days. The most obvious changes will be for publishers, where technology - back when e4books began in 2004 - belonged mostly in distribution centres rather than in the publishing office itself. The new scheme will seek to reward technical innovation throughout the publishing process.

Watch out for more information on this in the next few days.

Thursday, October 28, 2010


A couple of years ago, with the key support of the MLA, we developed a subset of the BIC Standard Subject Categories for the public library sector. You can see it at http://www.bic.org.uk/51/E4libraries-Subject-Category-Headings/.

It has stirred up a lot of interest in all parts of the library supply chain and is being implemented by a number of library authorities. It offers the opportunity to reduce cost and streamline workflows by automating the categorisation process, and to support further improvements in stock selection, management, discovery and display.

We are now moving ahead with a revised version of the scheme and targeting it very much as a new national standard. We shall be testing this proposition in two joint seminars with the National Acquisitions Group we are holding in York and London over the coming weeks. For details go to http://www.bic.org.uk/e4libraries/.

Friday, October 22, 2010


Welcome to BIC's new blog. We hope to use it to alert members and other interested parties to the things we are doing in a more informal and immediate way than we have been able to do in the past, and to encourage comments and contributions.

We shall be posting at least once a week; so please come back soon and keep coming back!


Digital seminars are thicker than autumn leaves but always attract a good audience. We're particularly pleased with the line up of speakers we have for ours, which is on Tuesday 30 November at RIBA, 66 Portland Place, London W1. This is the fourth year in this current series, coinciding with the Online Show at Olympia, in which we attempt to tackle topical issues relating to digital publishing - not all technical or standards-related. This year Eddie Powell of lawyers Fladgate will be looking at key legal issues around the 'agency model' and territoriality, and Michael Bhaskar of Profile Books will be discussing how digital content will be discovered by readers of the future. We're particularly pleased to have a keynote presentation from George Walkley of Hachette UK and a member of our operational board on how he sees the digital landscape playing out in the months to come.

For the programme and to register, go to http://www.bic.org.uk/34/EVENTS-AND-PRESENTATIONS/.