E-Catalogs: From Wish List to Reality

In recent years, the idea of e-catalogs has taken hold in the publishing industry. The reasons for this are many, and start from the observation that more book communications—involving buyers, readers, reviewers, authors—are in the digital space, and catalogs should be, too.

Moreover, digital technology should be able to provide the most accurate and up-to-date sales metadata to all users. As marketing and sales managers face tightening budgets, cutting down on the expense and waste of printed and mailed seasonal catalogs is also a major goal.

But print catalogs are a universal 'technology,' and independent bookstores were particularly concerned that e-catalog formats and features would proliferate, spreading more confusion than convenience. Then Ann Arbor-based Above the Treeline launched Edelweiss, an open, multi-publisher standard e-catalog service, in May 2009, with the endorsement of the American Booksellers Association. Major trade publishers such as HarperCollins and Random House were quick to add their catalogs to the system. Several university presses, beginning with Cambridge and Columbia, and followed by NYU, Fordham, and Georgetown, also signed up.

In January 2010, AAUP was pleased to announce an agreement with Above the Treeline to offer the Edelweiss service to AAUP members at a significant discount. Along with a special first-year incentive to upload backlist titles for free, the new benefit program has already attracted more than 40 member publishers to Treeline-hosted web demonstrations of the Edelweiss service.

Many of the initial Edelweiss tools were designed with independent booksellers in mind. Bookstores who use Above the Treeline's POS (point of sale) and inventory data streams can incorporate that information into the catalogs they view on Edelweiss, examining sales of comparable titles, and streamlining their ordering. Sales reps can mark-up publisher e-catalogs with notes for particular booksellers, and highlight specific titles and local connections.

As the service grows, Treeline is constantly developing new tools for other book industry communities. With the AAUP program attracting more scholarly publisher users, Treeline is looking to develop features specific to academic book marketing, particularly course adoption tools. The existing ability to create customized subject catalogs for particular contacts has great appeal for academic and regional publishers, and the possibility of handling exam-copy requests through the service was a matter for discussion at a September 2009 meeting between Treeline and AAUP members. To serve publicity needs, Edelweiss will launch a partnership with NetGalley in the spring. Being able to provide e-galleys for reviewers complements the existing "Buzz" feature, which tracks the appearance of book titles and authors' names in blog and Twitter feeds.

Two AAUP members, Fordham University Press and Georgetown University Press, shared some of their early experience with using Edelweiss. While cutting the print catalog was a major goal for both presses, neither Georgetown Marketing & Sales Director Gina Lindquist or Fordham Director Fredric Nachbaur foresee a time when they will not also produce a print seasonal catalog. Nachbaur points out that the print catalog is used as more than simply a sales tool for a list of titles, but is also a key promotional piece for the press on campus and at academic meetings.

Fordham and Georgetown publish similarly sized lists, averaging approximately 20-30 titles per season. While larger colleagues such as Cambridge have been selective in loading titles with specific trade potential into Edelweiss and leaving out more specialized monographs, Fordham and Georgetown have both chosen to upload the entire catalog for the Fall 2009 and Spring 2010 seasons. Fordham is considering creating a regional catalog on the platform with both front and backlist titles.

A motivating factor for Fordham in using the service is that the press is part of the Columbia University Press Sales group, along with NYU Press. As Columbia was an Edelweiss early adopter, Fordham's sales representatives were already in the field using the system. In contrast, Lindquist reports that Georgetown's main goal right now is to convince the press's regional commissioned sales reps of the value and capabilities of the e-catalogs.

She is pleased with the possibilities of the Edelweiss platform and the extra tools it offers reps, such as customizing catalogs for individual accounts. "You're never selling the whole list" at an independent book store, Lindquist notes, so the "tailoring is really great." She admires the support and training that Treeline offers reps and buyers getting used to the system, but believes that success will ultimately rely on the system reaching a critical mass of publishers, rep groups, and buyers using it. The new AAUP program gives her optimism that the moment of reaching that mass may be closer than ever.

Readers can check out all the catalogs on Edelweiss for free, registering here: http://edelweiss.abovethetreeline.com/

AAUP members can learn more about the discount benefit program here: http://aaupnet.org/programs/epub/edelweiss.html or contact Brenna McLaughlin at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it to inquire about future web demos.

Brenna McLaughlin
Electronic and Strategic Initiatives Director, AAUP