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.