The Recession bites even Google

Google is trimming some services and has laid off some Googlers (not contractors but staff in recruitment). Of course, Google is going to feel the recession and it is big enough and its operations sprawl in ways that will benefit from pruning. We have long been intrigued by the Google Catalogs service, which now, according to Technologizer, folds. This was one of the web services that we looked at most closely when we started Exact Editions (Google Book Search was not then visible). It has always seemed like a good service which lacks a proper commercial motivation. A service with a business model which did not seem to connect to business. Where did they go wrong? What was not connecting with what it should have been connecting with? The short answer is that the service did not really connect with the transactions with which print catalogues are fundamentally concerned. There was no way that you could use the Google web-versioned catalogues to transact effectively with the companies that in most cases had excellent e-commerce facilities on the web: the product IDs and the phone numbers do not connect, do not link, to the e-commerce engine that transacts the business.

The Exact Editions catalogues service for book publishers does do this. ISBN’s and of course email addresses all link from within the catalogue page to the appropriate resources. It is also relevant that the Google service was entirely free (free to the catalogue publishers), and this meant that it was unlikely that Google would ever invest in the tools which would enrich the scanned PDFs with the meta-data that is required. Exact Editions does make this commitment to each catalogue we process, and the publishers can choose whether they want the phone numbers to link, and whether to target Amazon or their own e-commerce operation with the ISBN links, but as a result of this fine-grained approach our service could never be a completely free offering.

This all has implications for Google Book Search. Dont get me wrong, I think that GBS is a magnificent project, and that it will work. It is working. But it will remain monolithic and there will be limitations with this monolithic approach. It is also inevitable that publishers who have a big commitment in their books will want to have additional and superior ways of presenting them to the public. Google will have to deal evenly with its partners, but it will necessarily leave scope for innovators and publishers and authors who find ways of pushing the envelope. Managing and creating the appropriate web presence for each book and magazine will remain a responsibility for publishers.

The Book in its Context

When a book is in the library, the library catalogue is a key part of its context. This is even more true for digital books, where there is little opportunity for users to find out about the books except through searching the catalogue.

Last week we realised that we could enable a small change which helps digital books to appear in a better context in the library catalogue. The goal is to help librarians to include a link in the catalogue which takes the reader straight to the digital book, and in the case where the library has subscribed to several titles from Exact Editions it should be immediately obvious to the user which magazine or book they will be searching/reading:


It would be even better if the library Catalogue contained an image of the front cover which linked to the login page.

Many libraries now offer these links from front cover image as a way in. We will need to find an easy way to broadcast to librarians the availability of these login shortcuts. For the users its an important cue that we have provided the subtle ‘branding’ that goes with the individual book or magazine title. So the user is guided as to the specific part of the library’s Exact Editions account that they are using. Preserving the branding and using the front cover of individual titles is an important part of the Exact Editions philosophy. The platform should encourage books and magazines to sustain their individual character in the digital domain.

Putting a book or a magazine in its right digital context is a matter of bringing out its digital identity, and of developing its character.


Zoomii is an imaginative way of using and displaying front covers (works fine in Firefox, not in Opera and Safari). It is an alternative interface to Amazon which gives you a good way of shopping for Amazon titles using a ‘virtual bookstore’ with the covers on shelves, face-out and clickable to purchase or get more data. I really like the way that it is built on Amazon bookstore meta-data, uses Amazon’s S3 and Amazon EC2 (Amazon’s cloud computing infrastructure) and of course guides you to Amazon’s e-commerce system (it should get a promising flow of affiliate income). This is a business built by, with, from, on, and in front of Amazon. Chris Thiessen, the developer has a blog which reads as though it must be pretty much a one man (woman) and a baby effort. Isn’t that cute? Isn’t the achievement impressive?

One subtlety appeals to me, you can save bookshelves you may have generated. Here is my shopping cart for P G Wodehouse books. Hat tip to PersonaNonData and Brantley.

A magazine without single page views?

Well its really a catalogue (not a magazine) for a trade show:

The organiser wanted us to produce the catalogue with no option for ‘single page’ views. When I overheard discussion of this request, I assumed that it would not be practical, but I am pleased to say that the Exact Editions platform can be adapted to meet this slightly unusual request.

Why would the customer want this? His principal reason was that he wanted to make sure that his advertisers would get maximum exposure and was concerned that browsing users might simply skip all the single pages devoted to ads.

Publisher’s Catalogues — the Book Buyer’s Perspective

PersonaNonData notes a thoughtful posting on the role of catalogues in today’s market from Arsen Kashkashian who is a buyer in a Boulder bookstore. Arsen’s recommendations are interesting and progressive, but the situation is both more complicated and in several respects simpler than he allows.

  • “The catalog would be available online, and each store would access it through a distinct login.” But a publisher’s catalog to the extent that it is a promotional tool should be ‘open access’ without need for a login (there is no reason for keeping any potential customer or intermediary out of a catalog). But maybe it should also be presented in a customised way for an individual store…..So simpler but more complicated than one might suppose.
  • “Each buyer would be able to sort the catalogs however they wanted.” Does Arsen mean that the buyer should do the sorting, searching, tagging…. and these are all different… or that the publisher should pre-sort? The requirement may be both simpler and more complex than it appears.
  • “An alert system could let buyers know of all the changes or additions that have happened since they last placed an order.” But isnt there a role here for the publisher’s catalog/seasonal list, which needs to be relatively unchanged as a ‘print-type’ publication, and the continually updated catalog in HTML format? This is what the Exact Editions catalogue system enables. But the situation is both simpler and more complex than it appears, as we need the ‘periodicity’ of a seasonal list and the ‘updateability’ of the web catalog. The print/PDF/digital edition requirement is simpler than it may appear. But the web requirement may be more complex.
  • “The publisher’s online catalog would dump the purchase order directly into our computer system.” This is what our live ISBN system enables (for PDF catalogs outsourced on the ExactEditions database), but the natural implementation is to collect the data on the publisher’s or on the wholesaler’s database system. Again this is simpler than Arsen’s requirement (provided the publisher/wholesaler can resolve ISBNs) the catalog with live ISBNs does not need to know anything about the e-commerce system and its workings. But the requirement is again more complex than it appears, because as we have just mentioned, wholesalers are involved. The database catalog system has to be able to work with bookseller’s systems, publisher’s systems and also wholesaler’s.

A key to making order out of this confusing situation, is to focus on these two features of the situation: promotional materials need to be published and as openly available as possible. Second, the book business (for librarians and well as retailers) is blessed with an amazingly unniversal product code: the ISBN. Automated systems need to leverage the value of these product codes and a catalog which is alive to ISBNs can be integrated with many other systems (bibliographic, transactional, or statistical) through the ISBN data. Use it.