BookCamp Vancouver 2010 – Part 2

From Paper to ECatalogues: The complicated problem of replacing something simple

The first session I attended was about shifting publishers’ catalogs from paper to digital (these are the catalogs that publishers use to sell books to booksellers). I decided to go this one because it’s an example of a print to digital shift that is actually happening (not hypothetical, like the death of the book ;-)).

They started by noting how frequently paper catalogs have to be put out due to corrections, additions, etc. A new paper book is published every half-hour (300,000k / year) just in the US. A benefit of ecatalogs is that they can be constantly updated, so the listings are always current.

One important thing that ecatalogs enable is curation. With an ecatalog, salespeople who are familiar with their clients’ interests can create custom catalogs tailored to their interests. That is, if a salesperson knows that a client is interested in books on X, Y, and Z, she can put together a catalog that only contains books on those topics. (The flip side is that a custom catalog precludes serendipity.)

Most books are sold and bought by people who haven’t read them (wait, what? you’re not reading 300k books/year? slacker ;-)), so the catalog copy (kind of like a jacket blurb) is really important. Most books are bought on this basis. Catalog copy is not written by the author (who does write it? someone at publishing house, I guess?).

There’s a romanticizing of new books, but the backlist is really important. (Assume ecatalog is better for backlist, keeps it visible, whereas print would just feature new releases?)

@chelseathe In the world of 3000000 titles, the curatoial role of the sales rep becomes even more important #ecat

@boxcarmarketing The role of the sales rep is even more important with ecatalogues  #ecat

Book industry is cutting edge! The ISBN innovation (assigning an individual # to each edition of a book) in ‘80s came from within the book industry. Apparently, this is one reason why Jeff Bezos decided Amazon would sell books—they were ready for the internet.

Challenges of going digital: clients must be able to flip, browse through catalog as quickly online as in print. There can’t be any refresh time. Need to be able to move from one book to the next seamlessly, as if flipping through a paper catalog.

I perked up when they said this, because OMG, yes. This is designing with the user in mind. I want to contrast it with my experiences trying to read ebooks on SFU Library website. Gah, awful, will not use unless desperate. Now, I’m no Luddite, so why not?

  1. Major refresh/lag time, which is super annoying.
  2. Too much visual clutter to read onscreen.
  3. If you try to skim through the book to see if it will be useful to you, i.e. flip, as you would with a paper book, a warning pops up saying you’re going too fast (this, as you’re weeping in frustration at the lag time), and you have to confirm that you are not stealing the book before you can continue. No, I am not joking.
  4. If you decide that there’s a portion of the book that will be useful to you (say, one chapter) and and you decide to print it out to read offline because of the uber-annoying interface, it will probably tell you you’ve exceeded your page quota before you get all the pages you want printed. Yes, I only needed 2/3 of that chapter, thanks.
  5. So, after all that aggravation, you end up having to make the 2-hour round trip to the library anyway to get the paper book. Grrr.

It’s pretty obvious that these ebooks are designed from the pov that copyright must be protected at all costs and all readers are thieves. What I’m not clear on is why they even bother, unless it’s to sour readers on the whole experience so they flee from ebooks forever (I don’t think that’s going to happen). I mean, they definitely  discouraged me from making use of these ebooks unless I can’t make a trip to the library, but it’s not like I’m rushing out to buy a copy of the book instead; I’m just taking the paper version out of the library.

Moral of this long-winded anecdote: Be Ye Not Annoying to Your Readers.

The number one  thing that sells a book is the cover, not the description, so it’s important that the cover image be prominent (Raincoast has it at 1/3 screen). (Takeaway: adding images to TC was a great idea.)

Right now, they are using ecatalogs in conjunction with print catalogs. Going cold turkey is not the most efficient because of the learning curve. It’s easier for sales reps to sit down with a client and flip through a paper catalog together. Also, they want people to choose to use the ecatalog, not force them to use it.

@chelseathe Think of the ecatalogue as just another tool to add on to the print, not as ‘the future’ #ecat

Sales reps generally make a lot of annotations in their catalogs. They have a master copy for themselves and have to transfer (rewrite) these annotations for clients. The ecatalog software allows sales reps to make both public and private annotations on the book listings, which eliminates the necessity of repetitively copying these notes (can just refer clients to the ecatalog).

(I think this’d be something to think about for TC, but I’d like it to be hidden, i.e. click to read notes/comments, because I want to keep visual clutter to a minimum.)

Publishers are also able to link from a book’s listing to book trailers, author website, publisher website, etc. (Similar to what we’re trying to encourage in author bios.)

@boxcarmarketing Cool – BookNet’s ecatalogue system will link to video and audio  #ecat

Yesterday: introduction

Tomorrow: recap of the second session