EDI is an acronym for “electronic data interchange”. The book industry has been steadily going digital since the 1960s, when WH Smith computerized its warehouses and needed identifiers and metadata about books in order to do this. The ISBN grew out of that effort, becoming an international standard in 1970.
As publishers, booksellers, and distributors began communicating with one another via computer files, more standardization was necessary. In the US, the Book Industry Study Group created BISAC – Book Industry Standards and Communication – to meet regularly and define what went into the files, and what restrictions were needed for effective communication. This standard, known as “BISAC fixed” (meaning fixed-format) served the industry from the 1980s until 2007.
However, while BISAC fixed was supported, at the same time the industry was developing something called X12 – an XML standard for communicating the same information that was in a BISAC fixed file. As we know, fixed file formats are not terribly extensible, and after the ISBN moved from 10-13 digits, BISAC fixed was no longer supported at BISG at all – X12 has replaced it.
So what’s the difference between ONIX and EDI? Essentially, EDI contains transactional data – inventory figures, availability, invoicing data. ONIX contains marketing information – the title, the author, what the book’s about, the cover image. EDI is data for those who work in accounting, in the warehouses, in the receiving departments of bookstores and libraries. ONIX is data for consumers.