The innovation game

Richard Lewis catches up with Book Data and finds recent partnerships with companies including BDS and FirstEdition are bearing fruit</p><p>
Foliage is the first thing you notice as you step into Book Data's open-plan operations room. Scores of editors and data entry clerks sit amid the plants, producing the essential fuel of the Twickenham-based agency: bibliographic data, all of which is fed into its reinvigorated database, Power-Haus.</p><p>
This they do from whatever the publisher sends them. Some publishers send standardised information approved by Book Industry Communication (BIC); others might send scrawls on the backs of takeaway menus.</p><p>
That is where the team of editors comes in, converting publisher blurbs into something that is designed to help a bookseller to sell a book in those moments when a customer is deciding whether to order.</p><p>
The keyboards buzz away like crickets and there is little chatter. "A lot of the staff wear Walkmans," Brigid Macleod, sales director, confides. "They find it helps them concentrate."</p><p>
Accurate data entry is costly and time-consuming. So Book Data has produced Connect, similar in concept to Whitaker's PubWeb: an online facility where publishers can update and check their bibliographic data over the Web, while conforming to BIC standards. </p><p>
EDI services</p><p>
Publishers subscribing to Connect get an added benefit. Book Data offers them a heavily discounted subscription to its flagship bibliographic product, BookFind-Online, a Web-based catalogue, and users can navigate easily between both facilities.</p><p>
Last year, Book Data acquired First Edition, the electronic data interchange (EDI) provider, to which 300 companies are signed up.</p><p>
A shareholder since First Edition launched in 1992, Book Data saw the opportunity to benefit from the company's product 1stexchange. net--the Internet-based e-commerce service for independent publishers--and to work together on "the next generation of information and transactional products in a much more integrated way".</p><p>
The company also owns a stake in BDS, the Dumfries-based library record supplier, with which Book Data has collaborated on an online library record project, BDZ, and I-Service, a Web solution for library suppliers.</p><p>
"We have always been great believers in working in partnership with people who do great things we couldn't ever do ourselves," Ms Macleod says. "In BDS and First EDItion we have the best library record creator and the best innovator of tomorrow's technology."</p><p>
1stexchange aims to do for small publisher EDI transactions what WhitakerWeb wants to do for those of booksellers (The Bookseller, 15th March). Historically, EDI has been costly for small players to set up, needing hardware, software and skilled IT personnel.</p><p>
But 1stexchange, operating from the mainstream platform of a Web browser, offers publishers with a PC and an Internet connection access to EDI facililties without paying much extra for them.</p><p>
Bob Shingleton, First Edition supply chain development manager, believes 1stexchange will eliminate frictions in the supply chain without losing the diversity of small players.</p><p>
"It's a neat Web solution for less than &#163;1 a day. It's a great service, but it's the wider context of the supply chain you've got to look at," he says.</p><p>
"Electronic trading is becoming pervasive. If you don't get connected you risk being technically excluded. We've got to get the smaller players hooked up and I hope they do it through 1stexchange."</p><p>
Also late last year, Book Data relaunched its Web services department under the brand E-Haus. Central to the relaunch was a vast improvement to the company's central bibliographic database. The company says that the database now delivers much faster access times and greater flexibility.</p><p>
Matthew Pollock, Book Data Internet director, says the company is now able to offer an improved range of Web products for booksellers and publishers, from bespoke databases to publisher start-up sites. He says E-Haus is ideal for companies that "need a presence on the Internet, but don't want to spend precious marketing budget on expensive e-commerce software".</p><p>
Book Data has also teamed up with Bibliographic Data Services (BDS) to launch an online service for libraries. The inititative, dubbed I-Service, will offer library suppliers customised e-commerce Websites.</p><p>
These Websites will be accessed by the suppliers' librarian customers in the normal way to search for new and recommended titles or bestsellers; and may then be used to place orders through FirstEdition. The Websites will give librarians access to UKMARC and MARC21 bibliographic records, and to records and content from Book Data.</p><p>
Ms Macleod says of the development: "We try not to reinvent wheels which have been elegantly invented already. By working in close partnership we can offer the industry truly integrated solutions for many of those nasty problems which still beset the book business."</p><p>
Filling the gaps </p><p>
Book Data offers a diverse array of products and services: bibliographic data, receiving and converting ONIX files, library records, EDI solutions, Website hosting and database searches.</p><p>
The zeal with which Ms Macleod and her colleagues promote these services is striking. Even more striking is their enthusiasm for tackling "those nasty problems".</p>