An introduction to managing your products

Works and products are at the heart of Consonance, just as they are at the heart of the publishing process. This article explains how Consonance structures these.

The difference between works and products

You don’t want to have to type lots of identical data for the hardback, the paperback and the ebook versions of your work. Subjects, blurbs, author details – they’re all pretty much the same for each product. And when any of that data changes, you don’t want to have to change it three times.

So to save you time, Consonance is structured to share data across similar products. To do this, Consonance has the concept of works.

Think of it as a family tree. Each work contains one or more child products. A work is a body of writing. You don’t sell a copy of it – it’s the writing itself.

On the other hand, a product is the physical or digital manifestation of that work: a thing you can sell.

So you might refer to the work ‘Swann’s Way’, which might have five products: an illustrated slipcase edition, a hardback, a paperback, an eBook and an iOS app.

What’s in a name?

A lot of thought went into what to call ‘works’ and ‘products’.

Originally, Consonance called the individual things that you sell a ‘book’. But what’s a ‘book’? A single copy? A publication? A piece of writing? Does the word encompass format, or is it more a description of the manuscript? Would you say that the hardback and the paperback are both ‘the book’?

If ‘book’ is too woolly, then what about splitting out the piece of writing from the physical form? Bibliographic professionals would describe the ‘work’ and its ‘manifestations’, with ‘impressions’ (or printings) producing ‘items’. (And those who have to think about musical works and their performance aspect also have to consider ‘expressions’ of a work). This is very good, but the word ‘manifestation’ doesn’t really conjure up the image of a book.

So we can look at the words that non-bibliographic people frequently use to describe books. Why, they’d say, it’s simple. You have a paperback edition of a work, and a hardback. ‘Edition’. Sounds plausible. But that word is one of the most loaded. You can have a paperback edition (a format descriptor), or a second edition (a time descriptor), or the Penguin edition (a publisher descriptor) or the library edition (a customer descriptor), or the US edition (a territory descriptor).

And what if you have the ‘digital edition’ which turns out to actually be three ‘books’: ePub, PDF and Mobi format?

What are the other options available to clearly describe a book? We’ve tried ‘edition’, ‘book’ and ‘manifestation’. Then there’s ‘product’, ‘ISBN’, ‘version’, ‘SKU’, ‘line’, ‘article’, ‘publication’, ‘format’. Amazon refer to ‘books’ and ‘formats’. Some bibliographic systems refer to ‘works’ and ‘editions’. The powers that be call them ‘works’ and ‘manifestations’. ONIX (the language of book data) calls them ‘Products’ and mostly leaves the concept of ‘Works’ to the under-adopted ISTC scheme.

Works, in turn, can be called ‘works’, but also ‘titles’, ‘product lines’, and ‘ISTCs’. These options are either ambiguous (\what’s the title’s title?\) or arcane.

All this is enough to conclude, at least, that publishing hasn’t agreed on what the things are called that we produce. For Consonance, though, we’ve decided to call the body of the writing a ‘work’, and the things that you sell the ‘products’. And so those are the terms that you see on the menus and throughout the app.

As well as this, Consonance can be used to store information about maps, spinners, posters, apps, software, audio files and other content-related products. So ‘products’ seems like a good choice to keep your options open.