Canadian book industry sorts through supply chain data

A non-profit organization created by the Canadian book industry and the Department of Canadian Heritage is developing a service to help book retailers and publishers predict trends and better manage their inventories.

BookNet Canada,

said it will improve the book industry supply chain through a subscription-based offering called BNC SalesData to track book sales across the country. For retailers, it will provide information on what’s selling, how fast and how soon to re-order. Publishers can find out what books are flying off the shelves so they can increase print runs (or vice versa). The service is expected to be available in 2005.

Regardless of size, retail chains, independent bookstores, grocery stores, airports and online vendors would have access to the same market data, such as sales and stocking information, through the system. According to the Canadian Booksellers’ Association, no one knows how many booksellers ther are in Canada because these could include traditional retailers, universities/colleges specialty and other non-traditional stores. In the woman’s database at the association, there are approximately 2,000 listed, but that doesn’t include the retail chains like Chapters/Indigo.

Trying to be responsive to consumer needs can be particularly tough in this industry, said Michael Tamblyn, CEO of Toronto-based BookNet Canada, where even small players can have thousands of individual products for sale at any given time.

“”There’s a constant challenge making sure there are enough books in the supply chain all the time to satisfy readers’ demands, but at the same time that there aren’t too many because the book industry works on a consignment basis,”” he said. This means books can be returned to the publisher if they don’t sell, so there’s risk in oversupplying the market.

Those participating in BNC SalesData will transmit purchase information via an electronic file sent from their point of sale (POS) systems. This data is aggregated and made available for online reporting, or as a “”raw”” data file for use with POS and inventory systems, according to BookNet. BNC SalesData will provide marketing intelligence to both retailers and publishers; the service will be provided free of charge to retailers who submit data to the system on a weekly basis, while publishers will pay a subscription fee.

“”The various bookstore vendors that do participate will be sending us weekly feeds of what their sales are,”” said Patrick Kenny, vice-president and general manager of publishing business intelligence with R.R. Bowker, a New Providence, N.J.-based ISBN agency. “”It feeds into a slew of analysis tools so the publishers can slice and dice the information and see what trends are happening in the marketplace.””

R.R. Bowker, which has agreed to provide bibliographic information to BNC SalesData, sorts books by approximately 80,000 different subject categories. “”The more granular you can slice your marketplace, the more readily you can ascertain some intelligence out of those numbers,”” he said.

The challenge lies in getting hundreds of retail locations across the country to submit data each week.

“”All of this comes down to retailers seeing the value in a more responsive, more transparent industry and for the most part they seem to grasp that,”” said Tamblyn.

“”Retailers know the more information a publisher has, the more likely they’re going to be able to serve them better.””

So far, the majority of the 50 booksellers that BookNet Canada has spoken to are interested in participating; Tamblyn said the organization is currently tracking down as many booksellers as possible across the country.

“”Independents are important to us because they are some of the strongest advocates of Canadian publishing and Canadian authors and they also help round out the regional picture,”” he said. “”Independents are everywhere so if we get them in, it creates a richer picture of what’s selling in the market.””

Participating retailers will provide information anonymously through a point-of-sale system that submits data about the week’s sales by title. This information ends up in a central processing facility, which forms the core of data from which reports are generated and sent out to the industry.

BookNet Canada is also partnering with Informational Resource Technology to provide the aggregation and analysis infrastructure for BNC SalesData. IRT also powers a sales reporting service for the US$2.6 billion U.S. Christian book market – which is comparable in size to the overall Canadian book market. However, BookNet Canada will retain ownership of the data collected.

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Vawn Himmelsbach
Vawn Himmelsbach
Is a Toronto-based journalist and regular contributor to IT World Canada's publications.

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