Communicating Product Information in the UK Book Market

The book trade in the UK has at last been persuaded of the need for complete, consistent and accurate product information; and that is as important for your dealings with your distributor and sales agency as it is for keeping booksellers up to date with your titles. It is, however, not possible to be prescriptive about how you keep information about your titles current with your business partners as practice will vary from company to company and according to the status of individual titles. It will probably be necessary to establish appropriate procedures when you are setting up the details of your relationship. It will most likely not be possible to submit an ONIX feed, however, since ONIX, though well established as a medium for publishers to provide data to bibliographic agencies and—to some degree—for data agencies to provide information to booksellers, it has not yet reached the point in the UK where it is accepted as a universal medium of communication elsewhere in the trade.

When you are setting up a client relationship, it is likely that information about your titles will be input into existing systems by distributors and sales agents using basic manual techniques. The sales agency may well not have any kind of sophisticated system at all, being dependent on what you tell them, while the distributor is quite likely to use book-in-hand inspection to provide information about the physical properties of your titles. Both are likely to be interested in sales history and other background information not necessarily included in traditional bibliographic records. In either case it will probably be a somewhat ad hoc process, a laborious but essential element in getting things going.

It is impossible to overstate the importance of getting your metadata right and on time, especially as it is the key that unlocks not only discoverability but also e-commerce services and sales tracking. The linchpin of UK data provision is Nielsen BookData, which has a virtual monopoly on the supply of data to booksellers; and it is a crucial first step to ensure that your titles are properly included in the Nielsen database. Through various international data swap deals it is possible that titles which are on the Bowker database will already be held by Nielsen, but the data needs to be thoroughly checked and updated. The principle behind Nielsen’s business model is that a basic record of a title is loaded without charge, provided it contains all the information mandated by the BIC Basic standard. A more detailed product record, including marketing information, reviews, prizes and suchlike, will depend on your signing up to a subscription, which is chargeable according to the number of titles you have. Your decision on this will probably depend on the arrangements you make with your UK partners for the supply of product data and the recommendations of your sales agent. While you will be able to trade in the UK using your existing ISBN, other information may well need adapting to UK practice. You will certainly be able to supply data using an ONIX feed, though Nielsen may put you through a stringent testing period before accepting it. From the UK trade’s point of view, being on the Nielsen database is fundamental not only to having accurate information made available to booksellers but also to record supply data for Nielsen’s e-commerce BookNet services and for its sales data service, BookScan.

It will be a matter for discussion between you and your distributor to establish who is responsible for providing data to Nielsen; and it may be that a division of responsibility is the best option. Almost all distributors now provide a daily price and availability update to Nielsen for all their client publishers and you should make sure your titles are included in that feed. This will include price changes and immediate information about availability status. It may, however, be more straightforward if you provide the prepublication bibliographic data—about which you have the best knowledge—directly. Some distributors try to undertake this function on their clients’ behalf, but in the last analysis the accuracy of the information will be dependent on you.

You are also advised to submit data about digital products to Nielsen, though once again responsibility may be a matter for negotiation with any digital intermediary you engage. Although the channels of sale are different from those relating to physical books, it is in everybody’s interest that Nielsen should hold data about all existing editions, not least for when it becomes possible to create reliable sales data reporting and bestseller data.

Aside from Nielsen, Bowker also collects data from UK publishers. You should therefore update your Bowker records with UK availability and ordering source.

You would be well advised to ensure that your data is also submitted to Bibliographic Data Services, which provides MARC title records to the library community and also shares the British Library’s Cataloguing in Publication Data contract with Nielsen.

Once you have succeeded in setting up systems to handle the flow of metadata for your new titles, things will become much simpler. However, you will lose sales if you do not give the trade adequate lead times to place orders for your titles. Apart from ensuring that your titles are on the Nielsen database, with a full description and cover image, your sales agent will work on a new book cycle which involves presenting forthcoming products to key buyers up to a year ahead of publication. While other pressures may exist to relax this requirement, it is prudent to keep on this critical path as far as possible. It may well be to your advantage to delay UK publication, even if you have stock destined for the UK market in your warehouse, until the market is properly primed.

Subject Classification

Leaving aside local prices and ordering source, most bibliographic data is globally applicable. The one thing that isn’t is subject classification, and that needs consideration when entering the UK market. The UK uses the Book Industry Communication (BIC) classifications, as does much of the English-speaking world outside North America: the scheme is comparable with the BISAC scheme with which you will be familiar, but unfortunately its differing structure renders it next to impossible to make direct or automated conversions from one to the other. Various “mappings”—more properly, equivalence tables—in both directions exist and can probably be obtained from Nielsen or Bowker, or the Book Industry Study Group or its UK equivalent BIC. These may be helpful in conversion but there is always a risk that precision in defining a subject will be lost and discoverability thereby diminished, a serious matter particularly for online search. In a perfect world, it would be best to reclassify your titles from scratch, using the helpful allocation tool on the BIC website.

This unsatisfactory problem, made the more so in the online environment, is being addressed by the development of international multilingual scheme Thema.

For more information on sales and distribution in the UK, download our market guide.

07/15/2015 | Distribution