Interactive Publisher Catalogs

One of my favorite non-library blogs is “Kash’s Book Corner.” Kash is Arsen Kashkasian, the head book buyer for the Boulder (CO) Bookstore. He writes engagingly about daily life at work (how many of us can do that?).

I’m always fascinated to see the contrast between how libraries and bookstores buy. Kash doesn’t read prepub reviews (he’s already buying into ’09) and placing orders doesn’t involve a computer.

Before you get misty eyed about how nice it would be to not stare into a computer screen all day, read his post from yesterday. He calls the current method of buying an “exercise in absurdity and futility…an antiquated, inefficient system that hardly takes into account the invention of the personal computer and completely ignores the existence of the internet.”

Kash is excited by HarperCollins’s recent announcement that they will soon make available an online interactive catalog. I’m excited, too. At this point, Harper doesn’t have their catalog available online in any form, not even as a PDF.

Here’s part of his dream of what an online publishers catalog should do:

As soon as a book has a new cover, I could see it on the site. When new publicity, like an NPR show, is booked, it would be updated online immediately. Never again would my rep and I have to waste time looking at outdated pages. Instead, our appointments could be used to quickly discover the best books for the Boulder Book Store and to determine how best to position those titles. Add-on sheets for late titles would be a thing of the past. Instead, those books would be up and ready to go on the website.

I always preach to libraries that publishers catalogs provide valuable additional information to prepub reviews. They show how the publisher is positioning a book and they list new editions and embargoed books that will not be reviewed. That’s the reason we have downloadable catalogs on Early Word; so you don’t have to troll around all the publishers web sites to find out where they’ve hidden the catalog. It’s frustrating that two of the largest publishers in the business — Random House and Harper — don’t post their catalogs at this point.

Take a look at Kash’s post. I’d love to see librarians weigh in on this. What’s your dream of an interactive catalog?

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