EDI: What is it?

EDI is an abbreviation for Electronic Data Interchange. The basic definition of EDI is:

Computer-to-computer communication of business documents, in a standardized format, between two companies.

Although it has a technical-sounding name, EDI is fundamentally a business initiative, which has been developed over the past thirty years. It was pioneered by the transportation, retail, and grocery industries, in an effort to increase quality and customer service, and offer long-term cost benefits. EDI also represents a major step in creating a paperless office.

By replacing paper documents such as purchase orders or invoices, with its EDI “equivalent” – a computer-readable EDI document - four key benefits are realized:
1) Accuracy is increased, since human intervention (the acts of entering and re-keying data) is eliminated
2) Timeliness is increased (the electronic transmission of forms eliminates the delays inherent in conventional mail, or even Fax)
3) Customer service is improved
4) Bottom line costs are reduced

Definition Explained

A further breakdown of the definition of EDI helps explain this business initiative:

"Computer-to-computer" means that the data you send or receive from a bookstore (the most common examples are Invoices or Purchase Orders) is communicated via electronic transmission, without human intervention or interpretation.

"Business documents" means that you will use EDI for the exchange of specific documents only, such as Purchase Orders or Invoices.

"Standardized format" is at the heart of EDI. EDI requires you to follow standards that define the format and content of your business documents. When you start using EDI, your PO’s and Invoices will be converted by the EDI translation software program into the exact same format as those used by all other publishers using EDI. (The publishing industry EDI standards have been set by the BISAC - recently renamed BASIC - committee of the Book Industry Study Group). This means that each Purchase Order, Invoice, or Pack Slip will be completely readable by any computer used by any bookseller using EDI.

Summary of Definition

In summary: when you do business via EDI, you send business documents directly from one computer to another, the documents are in machine-processable form, the exchange is limited to documents, and the document exchange is governed by standards.


EDI has created a vocabulary of specific terms which are somewhat technical sounding - but translate easily into normal English!

Purchase Order Acknowledgments

A POA tells the bookstore the status of their Purchase Order: what books were shipped, back-ordered, cancelled, the list price, and discount.


Transaction Set

A transaction set is the EDI term for a business document. Each transaction set has a standard three-digit numerical code that identifies it.

The three most common transaction sets are:
850: Purchase Order (PO)
855: Purchase Order Acknowledgement (POA)
810: Invoice

IMPORTANT NOTE: Your first two EDI transaction sets must be Purchase Orders and Purchase Order Acknowledgements. Future transaction sets are your choice.


This cryptic term refers to the overall set of standards governing the use of EDI documents by all industries in the U.S. It is the protocol that makes sure all items on a document land in the right spaces. Usually called "X12."

Translation software

The program that takes an EDI standardized X12 document and converts, or translates it, into a format that your Order Processing computer can recognize. Unitech provides this software.

Communication software

The program that allows you to connect to your EDI mailbox. Unitech provides this software

EDI Mailbox

This is the place where EDI documents are sent to and received from, via electronic transmission between computers. Each bookstore trading partner and each publisher maintains its own EDI Mailbox. Depending on your volume of sales, your bookstore trading partners will send you EDI orders on a daily or weekly basis. It is up to you and each trading partner to decide when you will connect to your mailbox and process orders from that trading partner.

To access the mailbox, you connect to a VAN, or to a network managed by an EDI Provider


Stands for Value Added Network, or "third party service provider." A VAN takes EDI documents, and moves them into mailboxes.


EDI Provider

EDI Providers manage and support the networks over which electronic transactions are delivered.

Trading Partners

This term refers to companies with whom you are exchanging EDI documents. Major trading partners include Ingram, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Baker & Taylor, and Pubnet


Pubnet is a membership organization that provides you with access to more than 3000 bookstores. While Pubnet provides you access to its entire membership, Pubnet itself is considered a SINGLE trading partner. It’s easiest to think of the service as a "consolidator" - they consolidate all the purchase orders from all the bookstores, and put them in your own EDI mailbox, so you can get them with just one mouse click. In addition to many college bookstores and other retail bookstores, you also will be able to receive Purchase Orders from Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble College Division, Rittenhouse, J.A. Majors and others. Pubnet is the organization name; Pubnet is the name of the EDI service. MISG is the EDI Provider.

To be fully EDI-capable, you need to sign up with both QRS and Pubnet. They are complementary, not competing. The choice is not which to choose, but which to sign up with first.

All Pubnet bookstore members send Purchase Orders and require that you send back Purchase Order Acknowledgements (POAs).

Some Pubnet bookstore members, including Amazon.com and Baker & Taylor, will accept electronic invoices at this time. The expectation is that you will be paid more quickly if you can submit electronic (EDI) invoices.

Pubnet Fees

Pubnet receives three fees:
1) An initiation fee
2) An annual membership fee
3) A flat fee for each document, regardless of size
Free technical support and comprehensive client services from Pubnet is included.

Summary of Benefits of EDI