A Year In, Edelweiss Is Going Strong

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A year after the launch of Edelweiss, Above the Treeline's digital catalog platform, both booksellers and sales reps who use the system are delighted with it.

“I really think Edelweiss is a great tool for buyers,” said Harvard Book Store buyer Megan Sullivan.

“I give it an A,” said R.J. Julia Booksellers social media director Karen Corvello, the store's longtime buyer.

Maria's Bookshop inventory manager, Joe Foster, agreed, noting that Edelweiss is not only easier to use than a traditional paper catalog, it's also easier than working with a different digital catalog system for each publisher. “It saves me time and makes me a better buyer,” he said.

Edelweiss' focus "is not so much on the beauty of [the catalog], but on the workings of it,” said HarperCollins sales rep Anne DeCourcey. “The information is current ... and everything is immediate.”

Part of the appeal is Edelweiss' ability to present comprehensive and up-to-date information about each title in the catalog. “I always send an Edelweiss markup to buyers at the start of the season," said Random House district sales manager Ann Kingman. "This contains information such as announced first print, marketing and publicity information, comments on books that I am particularly excited about, or where I know that there is a fan of the author on staff. This allows the buyer to go through the catalogs with far more information than they would have with a traditional paper catalog.” And, she noted, “when stores use paper catalogs, they rarely have all of the information ahead of time, so I spend much of the appointment discussing announced first prints, publicity and marketing plans, and things like where the author lives. With Edelweiss, this is all there for them when I send my catalog markup.”

Stores that also use Above the Treeline, like R.J. Julia, Harvard Book Store, and Maria's, can check historical sales data from within Edelweiss. “I love that it gives me comparative titles, information on how the hardcover or previous books by the author did,” said Sullivan.

“There is no way that another digital catalog could do comps in a useful way without information provided by Above the Treeline,” said Foster.

Another benefit of Edelweiss is its ability to export purchase order information to most point-of-sale systems, thus eliminating the need to enter each ISBN. “It makes data entry a breeze,” said Sullivan. “Takes half the time.” Corvello agreed that the store is much more efficient when staff can automate the administrative part of buying. “The download process is incredible,” she said.

Foster has found that the way Edelweiss presents each title has led him to pay more attention to small-press books. “With Edelweiss I have to look at each book, and I mark whether or not I want it,” he said. “This means that each book gets equal screen time, whether it's the next Baldacci or a first-time novelist writing about a monkey who was raised by elephants.”

Foster also likes having the ability to search across all catalogs at once. “When I notice that there are lots of books about essentially the same subject, which happens multiple times a season,” he said, “I can pull up every book in Edelweiss about that topic and pick what I think are the best out of the bunch – once again putting lesser-known titles, authors, and presses on equal footing.”

Booksellers and sales reps agree that while Edelweiss makes it easier to prepare for a sales appointment, the software does nothing to decrease the importance of reps who can respond to a store's individual needs. “The information has always been there, whether on a printed catalog page or on the computer screen,” said Sullivan. “I still need the rep to tell me why I should order the book.”

DeCourcey works with several stores by phone, and has found that she can make the best use of their time when buyers use Edelweiss to share preliminary orders with her. “I will review their order, come back with suggestions, and that's what we discuss” during the phone appointment, she said. “It helps me limit the conversation to the titles that need it.”

Kingman has found that when Edelweiss makes the buying and data entry part of her sales calls go more quickly, she is able to spend more time at the store itself. “The length of the actual sales call can be much shorter than it was with paper catalogs, but it is a far more productive meeting. I then have more time to walk the sales floor – reviewing sections, the Staff Picks area, getting to know the store and staff better. This allows me to accurately communicate to our publishers in New York what is really happening at the store level. And most importantly, I have the time to talk with other staff members: I especially love spending time talking to floor booksellers about our upcoming books and about what they are reading and recommending.”

The result, Kingman said, is clearly to the stores' advantage: “It seems to me that the Edelweiss stores are buying more of the books that are right for their store.”

Edelweiss also allows publishers to reach a wider range of bookstores, including those that do not have assigned sales reps. “I can share my notes with accounts that may not have representation…. Basically I put in Edelweiss everything I would say to an account,” said DeCourcey. “The outreach can be far greater than just the accounts I've got.”

Although Sullivan and Foster were among the earliest adopters of Edelweiss, they understand why some buyers are still reluctant to use the system. Sullivan, who said she is still faster at marking up a paper catalog page, suggests working with Edelweiss and paper catalogs simultaneously as a way to ease the transition: “I found it helpful at first to prep for an appointment using Edelweiss,” she said. “But I also used my old print catalogs, too. Then, when the appointment ended, I would go over the Edelweiss catalog. It made me faster at using it.”

Corvello urged booksellers who are unsure about working with the system to contact Edelweiss support staff. “They're great to work with,” she said. In addition, “I'm happy to talk to any booksellers who have questions – and Edelweiss is not paying me to say this.”

“The very basic functions are simple to figure out, and as you get more comfortable you can click around to other stuff pretty easily,” said Foster, who has been training his Maria's colleagues to use the system. “There are things you can do quickly and easily, or you can dig deeper and deeper to find some really cool functions that will help in ways you hadn't thought of yet.”

ABA will soon be asking member booksellers to complete an online survey about Edelweiss. Survey responses will be aggregated and used by Above the Treeline staff to help formulate further improvements to the platform.