catalogs vs registries

january 12, 2022

I’ve been working through finding ways to clearly define the differences between catalogs and registries. Both terms are broad enough to apply to the same thing, but for industry-specific purposes there’s a world between.

Let’s take the music industry. What do these words mean on that planet?

Catalog here implies a collection of your music. This may come across as broad, but when you put that thought under a microscope it becomes clear what a catalog should look like: Clear music tracks, albums with full art on display, a heavy focus on release dates and street dates, etc. A music catalog within software has a strong visual presence with a powerful database underbelly. Public catalogs like Discogs and MusicBrainz do a good job of showcasing this. Private CMS-like catalogs within a record label’s business showcase it even better. A catalog provides clear relational paths between releases and the recordings within.

Registry is something else. The word itself for the music industry immediately brings up thoughts of licensing, legal issues, and the ever present (but silent) war between record labels and music publishers. In modern times, registry has become a word thrown around to represent the “database to end all databases” that is frequently sought after. Machine learning concepts, big data, deduplication, data cleansing — these terms are rarely used when chatting catalogs; with a registry, they’re a guarantee (and a threat).