BookNet builds repository of publishing industry data

Non-profit association BookNet Canada has joined up with electronic data interchange and electric commerce data warehousing company Commport Communications to go high-tech in their efforts to improve the Canadian book industry’s supply chain.

BookNet Canada is kicking off a new pilot project called BNC DataSync that will see if tapping into the Global Data Synchronization Network (GDSN) would be a useful move for North American book retailers and publishers.

The GDSN is a global collection of databases that contains a wealth of product information that retailers and manufacturers can utilize. Industries that are already using this resource include grocery, pharmaceutical, and packaged goods, according to Noah Genner, director of technology with BookNet Canada.

This new service would be especially valuable for the growing market of non-traditional book retailers, including grocery giants and large stores like Wal-Mart. “There are many more non-traditional bookstores now, including brick-and-mortar stores that didn’t use to sell books. Getting data out to those accounts is a lot more automated than at traditional bookstores,” said Genner.

Getting the information into the GDSN would be eased by the fact that there already is an industry standard data format: the online information exchange, or ONIX. Said Genner: “It’s not a big stretch to pull in data — the information goes right from ONIX to the GDSN.”

He hopes that publishers and retailers will want to upload their ONIX files into the GDSN’s global data dictionary, appended with all the information that gives the whole picture about the title, including the publishing date, who sells the title, alternate cover art, and author biographies. “We need to extend the global data dictionary to cover those extra fields,” said Genner. Whether these standards and additions will be included in the dictionary, he said, is up to the GDSN’s committee that is in charge of maintaining the global standard.

Aurora, Ontario-based Commport Communications will be providing the technical side for this venture. According to Commport Communications’  CGS Datapool support Meagan Ralph, users enter their ONIX information by uploading their titles through an FTP or AS2 standard to Commport’s hosted, GDSN-compliant system. During the uploading process, Commport works to standardize the ONIX information and prepare it for the GDSN database.

One challenge facing the pilot project, Genner said, is the change in mindset that it requires. “The retail players are crossing channels they’ve never crossed before. While it’s a stronger way to service them, the current retailers (getting into books) don’t really understand how books work,” Genner said. He compares it to the difference between entering a non-changing cereal box into a database with inputting the ever-changing information of a single title from a new cover design to a cheaper price. According to Genner, this year-long beta test will also include gathering feedback about the key information that should be included in the book industry GDSN fields, and coming into an agreement about what new fields should be included could be a struggle.

But, he said, the benefits to them are undeniable. Said Genner: “So many companies that produce consumer goods are part of the GDSN. At some point, people in the (book industry) supply chain are going to mandate that their clients use the GDSN — people want to talk in one file format.”

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