Industry Returns Initiative

Page last updated  09/06/2021

June 2021: Please note that the IRI documents are currently under review by the BIC IRI Review Group. For further information please email

Welcome to the Book Industry Returns Initiative or IRI for short.

The Book Industry Returns Initiative is a cross-industry standard designed to reduce the cost of returns processing. Most organisations in the book industry now understand and accept the need for overstock returns and agree that the industry-wide "Rule Book" which has been implemented in computer systems across the industry, has been responsible for huge cost reductions in returns administration. The automation of returns authorisation combined with Batch Returns and other communication mechanisms enables booksellers to request permission to return books and receive a rapid response. This response is automated by computer systems with access to accurate product metadata and sales history. In 2018 the IRI documents and the Rule Book were extensively reviewed to ensure that they are still fit for purpose. Some clarification work has been done although the rules themselves are still as originally agreed at the launch of IRI. 

Briefly, the main benefits of IRI are as follows:

  1. A more efficient returns authorisation process, enabling booksellers to return stock and reduce the space devoted to storage of returns pending authorisation.
  2. Improved accuracy of the returns authorisation. With a single default set of returns criteria (see the IRI Rule Book, below) the distributor’s computer system can access sales history and product metadata history and decide rapidly to authorise or refuse a returns request. 
  3. Improved planning and processes. Booksellers put a barcoded label on returns parcels and send back a confirmation message containing accurate quantities that are actually being returned (which may be a reduced quantity compared to the original request). Distributors can receive against this data and improve their planning and goods in processes for returns.
  4. With both parties understanding the IRI rules, Booksellers and Publishers can avoid disputes over returns and so also avoid the resulting difficult relationships which may impact on new product purchasing. Bookseller and distributor systems can consistently apply the same rules so returns authorisation can be as expected and returns processing can be streamlined.

The process is now widely adopted by the UK book trade and is currently implemented by Macmillan Distribution, Littlehampton Book Services, Penguin Random House Distribution Services, HarperCollins, Oxford University Press and many other suppliers (for a full list of suppliers see the Batch website). Many hundreds of booksellers including chains and independents take advantage of fast returns authorisation from these suppliers by using Batch returns.

Distributors who do not yet use IRI can access these customers via Batch Returns and streamline their returns policies and adopt industry standard terms and conditions.

The full technical specifications for the IRI messaging can be found here

June 2021: Please note that the IRI documents are currently under review by the BIC IRI Review Group. For further information please email

BIC IRI documentation, June 2018

IRI Rulebook

An Introduction to IRI for Booksellers, Distributors & Publishers

Benefits of the Book Industry Returns Initiative 

Frequently Asked Questions (for Retailers and Suppliers)

IRI Workflow for Publishers & Distributors

Industry Returns Initiative process specifications


BIC IRI documentation, March 2007

The following document was produced in March 2007 but was revised in both March 2008 and February 2011.

Standard criteria and conditions for overstock returns

BIC IRI Legacy Documentation

KPMG Report
, August 1999:

Tackling Returns


The Code of Practice for Returns, produced for the PA/BA Book Industry Supply Chain Steering Committee:

Returns: the New Process