Online Sales Catalogs to Be Subject of Discussion at BEA

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This week, HarperCollins Publishers announced plans to introduce an interactive, online sales catalog that would offer up-to-date title information, including jackets, add-ons, and author interviews, while reducing the publishers' paper output and overall carbon footprint. HarperCollins will preview the catalog at BookExpo America and expects to launch a beta version in six to 12 months.

"Often catalogs are beautiful publications in their own right, but they're often out-of-date before the sales conference," said Josh Marwell, HarperCollins' president of sales. The online format "makes the catalog less of a beauty contest and more of a dynamic tool. People are more interested in getting accurate information from their catalog rather than how it looks. We'll be offering the most up-to-date jackets, ISBNs, on-sale dates, media alerts, and reviews. And for folks who want excerpts and video and audio, it offers a platform for that material."

Other obvious benefits include reducing the environmental toll it takes to create and ship paper catalogs. "It's much greener, which is important to everyone these days," said Marwell. "We've all been asked to look at opportunities to lesson our carbon footprint." HarperCollins parent corporation, News Corp., plans on being carbon neutral by 2010.

At several of the American Booksellers Association's Booksellers Forums this spring, members voiced support for the environmental sustainability of e-catalogs, but expressed concerns about online catalogs' user-friendliness versus that of paper catalogs. "We will address the issue, and glean bookseller feedback, during the ABA Booksellers Advisory Council meeting at BEA," said ABA COO Oren Teicher. "We want to give our members an opportunity to brainstorm collectively about the features they feel are essential to make online catalogs useful business tools. ABA will then share their thoughts and concerns with interested publishers."

Marwell underscored that the online catalog was a work in progress for which HarperCollins needed and valued bookseller feedback. "We're still developing the details. We'd love to hear what folks have to say, and will be meeting with people at BEA. I understand that it's important to booksellers that they're able to annotate the catalog electronically and make lists for future reference, as well as to forward information to other booksellers in the store. We'll have to understand how customers are using and processing information in the printed format to create a useful state-of-the-art tool online."

Marwell noted that when HarperCollins switches from paper catalogs to an online catalog, some form of the printed catalog, perhaps POD, will be available during the transition. --Karen Schechner