Book, ONIX and BISAC


If you are serious in the book industry you have heard all this before so you can probably stop reading this now.

For the rest, please pick up a paperback or hardcover book. Now look at the back cover. You will see a 10 digit ISBN printed near the bar code. This ISBN number has been around for over 35 years. As the last digit is check digit what we have is 9 numbers. This is no small number as a billion books can listed using this. That is more then enough to cover every book ever published and every book that will be for a long-time. The problem is that these numbers have divided into many different categories. Some categories are getting full.

A similar problem occurs if you go into a supermarket, sometimes what you see is some shelves are empty and some packed. What has happened is in one category there is not enough stock to fill the shelf but in the other category there is too much and it cannot fit. So some of the shelves are full and some are empty.

The book industries decided rather then spread the numbers from the empty categories to the full ones to use a barcode so turning a 10 digit code into a 13 digit code. They then looked at their current standard for electronic data exchange which is BISAC. They quickly saw that BISAC cannot handle a 13 digit number and it should offer more information. Also they noted that technology has moved in 35 years. The rest of the world is going XML, which is a format recommended by the World Wide Web Consortium which is the closest body that we have that governs the WWW internet.

The book industry has always been progressive so they decided to bit the bullet. They would fix many problems all together. They would go to 13 numbers and modernize the BISAC file. So they came up with the ONIX file. It is built with 21st century technology.

They then turned around and gave everyone years of warning. The industry date set was January 1, 2007, which at the time was years away.

Off we as many other software suppliers did, went to book industry meetings. We discussed it with them the proposed changes.

We brought up the details that we had large number of DOS users that could not handle the ONIX files. For those trying to get a feel of what is involved in handling ONIX in our DOS system. First we would have to write a link into the internet and XML. Something that is possible but not trivial, then major file changes and probably almost every screen and report that has stock in it. Changes of this extent would probably cause bugs to everyone that uses our system until we worked them out. So it would have to be a new system separate from the newsagency system.

Many of the book suppliers stated they understood and that they would continue the BISAC file till mid 2008. All it is to them is another choice in their software ONIX or BISAC.

For interesting PowerPoint presentations’ discussing what is happening check out the following

So well briefed, we worked on resolving these issues in our software. Those clients of ours that are in the book industry helped us out considerably and we got it working.

So what is the problem! Well nothing and plenty depending what you want from book from your retail software.

If you have a recent copy of our software posbrowser, then it is not a problem.

If all you want to do is sell books. Then there is no problem either. Just enter the stock as you do now and sell it. The retail systems can handle barcodes. Just quote the barcodes to the supplier, if you want a special order.

Now in March 2007, if you want to use BISAC, I am getting several different stories from book suppliers some are saying
1) We have a cutoff date of this date and from this date, we only have ONIX
2) Our software is updated and we cannot send out BISAC now.
3) We don’t know how to handle BISAC. (With the frequent changes in staff in the people invoicing in the book industry this is actually true. New staff do not know the choices for BISAC and it is too hard as they need to remember who gets BISAC.)
4) Industry standard is ONIX and BISAC cannot handle the new book codes. (This is not strictly true.)

Some book suppliers have stated that they are looking at the ECG committee DDO files which are DOS compatible. The problem here is that this standard was originally designed by POS Solutions for cigarettes. It was generalized for any stock item in a POS newsagency management system. Later the ECG committee adapted it for their magazines and cards. It is not designed for books. More importantly it is not an easy standard to use.

So what has happened is a book supplier has a consultant look into it. The consultant gives a quote. The book company thinks about it. You ring up a month later, still thinking. Another month later well in one case, I rang up and expected to hear that they are still thinking about it but now the company manager stated “Now after so many years people are complaining. This proves the need for booksellers to keep upgrading their software and systems…... It is not our problem…..We are not picking up the tab”. I suppose it depends how important newsagents are to that supplier. The reality is not one book supplier has gone to DDO files.

So now what happens?

Well for almost 90% of our users, probably nothing needs to happen. Most of those serious in book are on posbrowser. Years ago they heard of the problem and started to talk to us about it.

Overall I suspect that only a few of our users on DOS are affected. Most of our DOS users as when I went over the list with some book suppliers, I found very few are getting the BISAC now.

Some may serious think of updating their system. If so give us a call ASAP.