Metadata elements to focus on in 2021


3 min read

We know that good metadata contributes greatly to a book’s success. But like anything else in publishing, metadata is constantly changing and evolving. Thanks to world events like the COVID-19 pandemic; environmental concerns and Brexit, some elements of metadata are becoming increasingly important.

woman wearing mask browsing a bookshop

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Country of manufacture

In 2021 goods moving across the border between the UK and the EU will be subject to customs checks for the first time in nearly 30 years.

'For international trade in physical products, the country of origin – in ONIX, – of the goods is [] important. This allows origin-specific tariffs or extra regulations to be applied on entry into a country.' –– Editeur

Country of manufacture will most often mean where the book is printed. If there is any confusion about customs declarations publishers can consult with a customs agent or broker. Sometimes the decision is made to produce individual print runs of a book in different countries so it’s important this information is kept up to date.

Product Classification

Publishers must now inform customs authorities of the type of goods they are moving between the UK and the EU. This can be done in ONIX feeds using Harmonized System codes that should be specified in the Product Classification composite. These will be different between printed books and other goods like toys and games. Some products may contain components that have different codes such as a book and stuffed toy set. In this case ONIX allows publishers to specify the percentage of the product that each code applies to.


Thema is a multilingual subject classification scheme for books and e-books. It is designed to provide accurate and detailed subject information across the international book trade. Eventually it is intended to supersede national subject classification schemes like BIC in the UK. Thema is quickly picking up support from across the global book trade so it needs to be a part of every publisher’s workflow. Whilst BIC is still widely used Thema should be used in addition to BIC codes and not instead of.

FSC certification

FSC certification guarantees that the paper that a book is printed on has come from well-managed and sustainable forests. Indicating via ONIX that a book has this certification is an efficient way of communicating this to the whole supply chain. FSC certification gives reassurance to retailers that you are meeting customer demand for environmentally responsible products. When using this field publishers need to make sure that the certification status supplied applies to all printings of a book.

EU Toy Safety Directive hazard warning

Publishers who sell children’s books and toys in the EU must meet the legal requirements of the EU Toy Safety Directive. This field in ONIX indicates whether the product does and carries the CE logo. Since the end of the Brexit transition period the UK government has stated that the Toys (Safety) Regulations 2011 will serve as the UK equivalent of the CE mark. This means that publishers will have to keep track of both regulatory systems.

Concentrating on these metadata elements will have a major impact on our business in an increasingly chaotic and unpredictable bookselling world.