UK trade group’s report has useful tips for Kiwi booksellers

A UK Booksellers Association report has useful tips for Kiwi booksellers as the latter announce the set-up of their own ebook research initiative.

The New Zealand Booksellers Association has set up a sub-committee to provide some leadership for members in an area that once again feels like its time might be coming. Many of the issues Kiwi booksellers will face as the move to digital books and information accelerates are well-canvassed in a new UK report.

Embracing the Digital Age was commissioned by the UK Booksellers Association (BA) to help its members understand the challenges and opportunities heading their way as the book world digitises. You can download a copy here. It arrives a year after another UK BA study on the same topic, Brave New World, but seems to have a more down-to-earth approach than its predecessor, focusing more on short-term practical initiatives and less on “brave new world” big picture stuff.

The authors, Francis Bennett and Michael Holdsworth, sensibly aim their sights at two main areas: the development and adoption of standards for digital marketing and communication; and upgrading the digital infrastructure of the book trade.

In the first area – establishing digital communication standards – the authors freely admit that, “agreeing standards may not qualify as the most exciting activity in the book trade.” But they are quite right to insist on its importance. The digital supply chain needs bibliographic information, publication content, and marketing collateral in standardised formats so they can be easily distributed, used by the book trade, and reused to provide better quality communication to their own book-buying customers. An interesting initiative which the authors draw attention to is the International Standard Text Code (ISTC), a kind of ISBN for the digital age. The idea is that this identifier would attach to the underlying textual work rather than a particular manifestation of it like a book. So the same work could be tracked across different digital editions or other digital products.

The second focus of the report is its recommendation to upgrade the bookselling industry’s own digital infrastructure. Booksellers need to ensure they have good websites integrated with their stores so they can trade online. They must use websites and email for communication with their customers and do it more effectively than at present – an area where better, standardised digital marketing materials will help booksellers produce more compelling websites. The authors also argue booksellers must use the new digital tools to become online “hubs” in their local communities. Finally, they need to be ready to sell “content”, not just books, as their customers demand digital products. Once again, the authors insist traditional booksellers can be the preferred supplier of their customers’ digital content by applying their traditional strengths of specialist knowledge and expertise to the digital world.

Much of this emphasis on standards no doubt stems from the report authors’ backgrounds, both of whose careers have been firmly routed in the business of providing standardised data for the book industry. Francis Bennett founded Book Data, now Neilsen Bookdata, one of the industry’s most widely used book databases; and Michael Holdsworth chairs Book Industry Communication (BIC), the UK book industry’s e-commerce and standards body. Standardised digital data was a great boost in the early days as computerisation infiltrated dusty old bookselling practices, and will be even more important as booksellers’ own customers rely more and more on digital information.

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