Wednesday, July 27, 2011


This is the time of year when we all try to get things finished - before taking on new tasks after the holidays. In BIC's case we have been able to conclude two longstanding pieces of work: a best practice guide for recipients of price and availability data; and our guidelines for implementing the new sales report standards.

The recipient's guide (here) is freely adapted from a similar document produced by our friends at the Book Industry Study Group and updated last year. It attempts to define the obligations on data recipients in their relationships with data providers: protecting the integrity of data received, specifying timetables for the processing of incoming information, ensuring that proper data audit trails exist, and so on. As the number of metadata feeds from publishers proliferates - if not to the extent that it has in the US - this initiative is all about trying to make the best possible information available to booksellers and their customers.

Readers of this blog will know how important we believe it is that we simplify and automate the processing of digital sales information from resellers to publishers. Now that we have tried and tested systems in place, our guidelines (here) are chiefly an exhortation to get on and use them. The standards provide the framework, but they do not define what information needs to be exchanged or the timing of the messaging - and nor do our guidelines. What is crucial is that resellers can use the same processes - ideally the same messages - for reporting sales to all their suppliers, and that suppliers can ingest identical messages from all their trading partners into their invoicing, sales, royalty and management information systems.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


Price and availability data: it ought to be such a simple matter, just a question of telling the supply chain that a price has changed or a title has gone out of stock. However, it is anything but - as the P & A working party we set up recently has been finding out.

To begin with, there is a common assumption that there is a single BIC code list for non-availability. There isn't. If you are using EDI to transmit availability data, you use the BIC/Tradacoms list 54. If you are an ONIX user you need List 54 if you're still with version 2 or lists 54 and 55 (publishing status and product availability) if you've moved to version 3. If you've implemented the BIC P & A web service standard, there's yet another list.

Next, the EDI codes serve multiple purposes: to indicate availability status in a data feed; but more significantly as a reason for non-supply when acknowledging an EDI order. To make matters worse, code list 54 is an all-purpose list which includes status and acknowledgment responses for all the different supply chain players and has to serve all their needs. Our first task is to sort out which codes should be used by whom, to mean what, and then how they should be interpreted by the recipient.

And that really is the nub of the problem: the whole concept of availability changes depending on who is asking and why. Every link in the supply chain changes the availability perspective.

We have a big task on our hands. And we would welcome input from any of you who would like to be involved.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Although BIC has been promoting the value of accurate early product information for more than a decade, we still only have 25 companies certified by our Product Data Excellence scheme. It's true that among those 25 there are companies which account for a high proportion of the books published in the UK, but it is still a reminder of how many publishers fail to understand the vital role that metadata plays - not all of it in obvious ways - in making sales and enabling discovery.

If that is true of physical books, how much more so for the discovery of digital content. The need for full and appropriate metadata in the right place at the right time is going to make massive demands on both publishers and resellers if the market for e-books and other digital content is going to grow and prosper.

These are the issues which have been under scrutiny by our Metadata Futures Group in its work to date. What are the appropriate strategies which should be adopted by publishers to cope with the growing demands from their trading partners for accurate and unambiguous metadata? Some of the answers are what you might expect: support industry standards, migrate to ONIX 3, identify products with as much granularity as you and your entire supply chain needs, develop system structures and hierarchies which minimise duplication and bloat... You can read the report on the group's activity to date here.

There aren't any easy answers, though. There is cost - and maybe no quantifiable ROI - attached to all these developments, and time is not on our side.