Why I Love E-catalogs

Josie Leavitt - April 13, 2009

I love the idea of electronic catalogs. I know I’m in the minority here, but what a great innovation whose time has come. I weighed six boxes of publisher catalogs I have at the store and it came to 60 pounds! Sixty pounds of paper that I’m going to recycle the moment those books are entered on my computer. Sixty pounds of paper whose journey to me was expensive, often redundant with needless multiple mailings and costly to the environment.

My store is small and only the two owners, Elizabeth and I, do the ordering for the kids’ and adult sections. We don’t have the organizational issue that many other stores have in terms of coordinating who needs to look at what catalogs. We just bring them home and share them. My biggest problem is remembering to bring the catalogs back to the store when it’s time for the meeting. Forgetting the catalogs at home and making the rep than run back to the car and scrounge another set of catalogs is not the best way to start a sales call.

There are two ways to find publisher catalogs on the web. The first is a website I stumbled on out of desperation when I needed a catalog I couldn’t find. Earlyword.com is an amazing site for librarians that has a downloadable link for a pdf or a direct link to the publishers themselves, for this current season’s catalogs for 80% of the publishers I deal with. Knowing I can find catalogs on-line means I spend less time tearing up the office and my house trying to find where I’ve put catalogs. The downside is I can’t order from the site — the upside is you don’t have to sign up to use the service.
The second is a new innovation called Edelweiss, from the folks at Above the Treeline which offers more interactivity than earlywords.com, but you must sign up in advance to use it. John Rubin, CEO of Above the Treeline, is offering it as “an online, interactive catalog system that will work across participating publishers so that booksellers need learn only one system.” I have yet to play with this, but from all accounts it could revolutionize buying. So far, 13 publishers have signed up to have their catalogs in the program. You can create orders and have them in a downloadable form for your POS. If it works the way they hope, with Edelweiss you’ll look at the catalog, make and read notes and then create the order right there, without once duplicating your work by having to manually add titles to your POS.

What’s led me to easier ways to find catalogs online is when I lose them, which happens a lot, I would try to go to the publisher’s websites. You’d think it would be easy to find catalogs at the publisher’s sites — well, not so much. I’ve found that most publishers’ sites make it hard for booksellers to find the bookseller’s portion of the site; it’s as if we need a special code to get in that secret section. I’ve tried to find catalogs at Random House and their bookseller portion of the site has a link for catalogs, but it leads to a byzantine search screen, and there’s no listing for Summer 2009 catalogs. I’ve had similar results with most other publishers.

HarperCollins is the first publisher to eliminate paper catalogs. Beginning with its Fall 2009 list, Harper will offer a full-service website for digital catalogs instead of paper catalogs. I’ve spent a lot of time on the site and I like it. It’s got all the information of the catalog with more features. One of the good things about it is you can click on the book and add to your list, so when you’re ready to order you’ve got them right there without having to skip past pages of titles you’re not ordering. There is a notes section for each title, which is a great idea if multiple staff members are logging into the catalog to make comments. I particularly love the backlist feature, though it’s not. as deep I’d like to see, and would be perfect if the book links were live, so I could add the books to “my list” For stores without computer access Harper is offering a booklet that will have the catalog information.

For me, someone who is literally and happily, attached to my laptop, my iPhone and the workstation at the store, e-catalogs are a godsend. I always know where they are. My staff and I can make notes on titles and in the case of Edelweiss, I should be able to make an order that can be converted right into my POS, saving me hours of data entry. The digital catalogs I’m looking at online are totally current. No more add-on sheets with every meeting.

I don’t know how many trees are used to create the average fall catalogs or how much carbon is used to print and transport these catalogs, but the cost savings the publishers can realize by not shipping catalogs to every store could be enormous, which maybe could go into co-op. I know booksellers can be resistant to change, especially when technology is involved.  However, I think it’s time we started thinking about the waste our industry produces, and embrace technology that can ultimately help us be more efficient booksellers who can spend more time selling books.

7 thoughts on “Why I Love E-catalogs

  1. Jeanette

    The correct url is http://www.earlyword.com (earlywords goes to a dead site) but thanks for bringing it to my attention. I love ecatalogs when I’m looking for something specific but still prefer to browse through paper. It will be interesting to see how I adjust to no paper!

  2. Inderjit Deogun

    I love this idea! It’s about time that more publishers convert to e-catalogues. The environmental and monetary savings is tremendous. I congratulate HarperCollins for making the shift.

  3. Carol Chittenden

    Much as I want to spare those trees, delivery trucks and shelf space… Trying to use the e-catalogue has been one frustration after another. One time it lets me log on, the next time it gives out a whaddahatokkinabout, and then it’s sweet and then it dumps me off to a hairy red error message. As the rep says, “It’s gonna be a loooong season.”

  4. bookseller girl

    Our store only has one PC, and it’s being used constantly for all our email, internet, and word processing needs. Making it also the ONLY way we can read catalogs would be a horror story for us. Should catalogs be made of recycled paper? Yes. Do I need color pictures in it? No. Do I need a physical catalog? Yes, I really do. Although I am a younger bookseller and have the benefit of growing up in the midst of burgeoning technology, I work with others who are not comfortable with it, and an electronic-only format leaves them in the cold. This is a tough issue with many ethical and financial considerations, but it is a step I believe must be taken slowly and with great care, lest we lose far more than we gain.

  5. Joan Sahlgren

    I love that you are getting folks to think about the fact that something like catalogs-so labor, time, and resource intensive-could and should make the jump to the virtual world. At First Book we made that leap with our online social enterprise, The First Book Marketplace, where programs serving kids in need can access books for the children they serve. Our nonprofit offers many publishers’ works through this e-catalog giving thousands of programs instant access to high-quality books to choose from to order the ones just right for their children. This allows literally hundreds of thousands of children access to improved quality education. We designed the site to be pretty straight forward. The internet has made this good work possible making it easy to reach and connect with programs serving the hardest -to-reach populations. While the concept might not work for everyone, for us this innovation is creating opportunities for resources before unavailable to the everyday heroes working with kids in need. http://www.firstbook.org


    Now that I’ve used a few electronic catalogs from publishers, here’s my wishlist – 1) give me a way to dog-ear a page (or save a title to a notepad), 2) let me then create a mini-catalog of my dog-eared pages, and 3) give me an export mechanism that will let me send an excel file with author, title and ISBN to my collection development team, or back to the publisher to request ARCs, or dump into an ordering system easily.


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