August 24, 2013

Online booksellers and their “eventually correct” data

I’ve become involved in the world of online book publishing through Linda Barlow, who among other credentials:

In other words, she’s no dummy. 🙂

I emphasize that because she’s my source about some screw-ups at and other online booksellers that at first seem a little hard to believe. In no particular order:

My basic takeaway is — the whole thing’s a mess.

What could explain all this? Technically, I doubt it’s any one or two things. Online booksellers smaller than Barnes and Noble may generally lack development resources. Barnes and Noble evidently can’t get its data silo connectivity act together (among many other technical shortcomings). Amazon probably suffered multiple snafus — part was surely an “upgrade” gone wrong — since different kinds of raw and derived data got corrupted.

But I do have one business explanation for it all — contempt for suppliers. To these booksellers, independent author/publishers are small suppliers. And computer systems that face small suppliers are commonly awful. (The same goes for business practices.) The meta-reason that so many publisher-facing systems are so bad in the bookselling world is probably just that online booksellers don’t make it a priority for them to be any better.

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4 Responses to “Online booksellers and their “eventually correct” data”

  1. nextgen quest on August 24th, 2013 9:03 am

    Curt (and Linda), thank you for sharing excellent insight into what may be an under appreciated problem.

    ● If these problems remain unresolved or get worse, what negative business impact might motivate investment into internally vs. externally developed solutions?

    ● While it is painful for the independents in the supply chain and a case can clearly be made to assure the quality of these business processes, to what extent could the current prioritization choices be justified as “strategic” (rather than short-sighted) in the face of limited, available resources?

  2. Curt Monash on August 24th, 2013 2:10 pm

    I don’t ever want to be in the position of saying “Properly run businesses shouldn’t have bugs in their software”.

    As for the practical matter of whether this bad vendor behavior does much to inhibit independent author/publishers from doing business through at least the bigger of the sites — I’ll buck that one back to Linda. 🙂

  3. Linda Barlow on August 25th, 2013 4:02 am

    For authors, the impact becomes significant when it affects sales and revenue. It is highly annoying when a cover is not updated for weeks, but I’m not sure this would have a huge negative impact on sales (although covers ARE important). But in the recent Amazon case, books that had been visible essentially became invisible on the site, which clearly harms an author’s ability to sell their product.

    Amazon, at least, fixes most things fairly quickly. Some of the smaller book retailers, like Kobo and even Barnes and Noble (which is hardly small, but which doesn’t compete very well with Amazon) seem to take weeks to fix things, and are not very responsive to user complaints. For these smaller retailers, who clearly would LIKE to compete with Amazon, their technological limitations are likely to drive them out of the market. Many authors don’t sell too many books on these platforms, anyway, so why should we keep bothering to do business with them, if they continue to be so inefficient?

  4. Booksellers see Amazon as biggest threat on September 4th, 2013 2:03 pm

    […] Online booksellers and their “eventually correct” data   Share this Post Tweet   TagsAmazon, Bookselling, E-book       Search the Shed […]

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