Metadata is an important part of the publishing sector. It’s the key data about publishers’ products – from titles, ISBNs, cover images, publication dates and prices, to richer information like abstracts or summaries, author bios, open access licenses and details of distribution arrangements. It encompasses bibliographic information about the book itself, but also the vital marketing collateral and commercial arrangements. Metadata is often communicated via ONIX, a standard data file format that publishers, retailers, libraries and intermediaries use across many countries.

EDItEUR is a member-supported independent trade association and standards body that’s best known for developing, supporting and promoting the ONIX and Thema standards, ensuring our ‘metadata supply chain’ remains based on free-to-use, open standards. The latest versions of its standards specifications can be found on the EDItEUR website

ONIX is EDItEUR’s ‘flagship’ standard, and certainly the most widely adopted and used.

It grew out of work by the Association of American Publishers which was published in January 2000. In the following months, these guidelines were developed into a more precisely-defined standard by EDItEUR – ONIX International as it was then called – but the standard has continued to evolve over the two decades and many different versions since then. If you’re unfamiliar with ONIX, there’s a 15-minute briefing video available at

All the relevant documentation – the Specification, an Implementation and Best Practice Guide and numerous other guidance documents – are freely available from the EDItEUR website at Some publishers develop in-house metadata management applications that implement ONIX data export, and others license off-the-shelf solutions from a range of vendors. ONIX provides an interoperable way of communicating product metadata between these diverse systems and organizations, right along the supply chain, while both reducing costs through standardization and improving discoverability and sales through routine delivery of richer metadata. The free and open nature of the standard, and the interoperability it assures, enables innovation and promotes competition.

EDItEUR has a policy of reviewing its standards roughly every 24 months, to enable new functionality and add business value. At each revision, thought is given to maximising the compatibility with previous versions, thus retaining the value of publisher’s and reseller’s existing investments in IT systems and data. The latest version is v3.1, though the differences from the previous 3.0.8 are relatively small, and the next version is slated for early 2025.

However, ONIX also includes a set of controlled vocabularies – ‘codelists’ in ONIX parlance – and these are revised much more frequently. Many requests to incorporate new items of metadata into the standard can be met via a codelist addition, rather than having to wait for up to two years for a full revision.

An international steering committee forms a vital part of the governance of each EDItEUR standard, and the ONIX steering committee is composed of representatives of the numerous ONIX national user groups around the globe – the most recently added was the national group for South Africa. While EDItEUR coordinates the development of the ONIX standard, final ratification of any change to the standard is up to the steering committee, and this engenders trust in the future sustainability and development of the standard.

So if your organization is already using ONIX, participation in a national user group gives you a real voice in the future of the standard. The same is true of Thema, which has its own steering committee and national user groups. And note you don’t need to be a member of EDItEUR to get involved in an existing national group – though each group may have its own participation criteria.

Many organizations that are committed to use of our standards choose to become members of EDItEUR, so helping to fund and sustain our activities. But EDItEUR members have an even more important role through their direct relationship with EDItEUR. Members are EDItEUR’s link to the business issues that its standards aim to solve: in many respects, they are the key driver of evolution of the standards, ensuring that they do not merely fossilise ‘the way we used to do it’ but instead deliver real business value. The range of different typesof member and their global spread isolates the standard from any narrow commercial interest. From publisher to retailer, from Canada to Korea, members come from all parts of the supply chain, and this gives the standards real vitality and resilience, and ensures that value benefits all parts of the supply chain.

Graham Bell

Next time, I’ll introduce a handful of the more technical considerations in ONIX – it’s focus on products, and the scope of the metadata it can communicate.