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The IOBA Standard is the journal of the Independent Online Booksellers Association and covers the book world, with a special focus on the online used, out-of-print, and collectible bookselling markets.


Jack Benson – Bookbase

What is [was] your purpose in starting a online book database (i.e., to help online booksellers, to get a database that does what you think a book database should do, because it’s a good business to be in, all of the above, none of the above, or ????).

In 1998, when I was first thinking about as an interesting database project, as far as I knew there were no multi-lingual book databases on-line. I felt there was a need for one and the first incarnation of the multi-lingual site went live in November, 1999.

Is this a long-term commitment on your part? Where do you see yourself and your database in 3 years? 5 years?

It is a long-term commitment. We now have over 600 dealers and 3.2 million books listed. I foresee remaining the centerpiece of the bibliophilic services that we will be offering in the next few years.

What lister book database inventory programs do you/will you support?

We support any consistent data format. We no longer accept word processor documents.

What are your upload procedures? Deletion procedures? Are “wants” listings available? For sale matches? Are any additions/changes planned?

We encourage our dealers to use our file browse and upload page, but many dealers prefer to FTP directly into the upload server, especially if they are using a book management software that has this facility. BooksellerPro, Booktrakker and Bookhound are three such software programs. We also accept files from the upload service, Bookrouter. Delete files can be sent by the same procedure – the upload page for flagged data such as UIEE is simpler than the page for unflagged data which offers add and delete options. Wants listings are available for both dealers and buyers, and dealers can upload wants files. Listings and wants are compared every 24 hours and users are informed of a match by email. Of course, all of these upload and deletion operations can be carried out at the individual book level from the dealer’s admin page. For sale matches are not offered.

What customer service (for both sellers and buyers) do you/will you have?

We prefer email enquiries that we respond to within minutes to a few hours, at most. However, we also field phone calls in several languages.

Will you/do you have any quality (i.e., descriptions, shipping, and/or customer service) standards for your listers? If so, what will be/are the consequences of violating those standards?

We leave this to the dealers and are happy as long as they’re not misleading anyone. However, we don’t relist books that have prices marked-up by intermediaries. We list dealers’ stock at the list price of the dealer. That boast is prominent in our marketing.

What are your technical arrangements (in non-technical language, please) to ensure reliability of service? Future growth? Additional services?

My company, ammonet, which owns, is a server collocation and hosting firm, among other things, so we operate our own servers and have no growth limitations in that respect. All of our databases run on server pairs, which minimizes downtime. Indexing and uploads are carried out on a server separate from the one that serves data to the book buyers.

Will you/do you have the capability of taking credit card info for orders? If so, what can you tell us about the safety procedures you have or will have in place to ensure the security of such info?

As mentioned above, we do take card data on behalf of our dealers. We don’t process the cards; the dealers do that themselves if and when they’re ready to do so. Our programmers are highly knowledgeable in the security field. Data are encrypted while in transit both to and from our secure server, and they remain encrypted on the server, which is itself secured. We upload patches immediately whenever potential security holes are reported, and we periodically attempt to crack our own server. Even with the benefit of inside knowledge of the configuration, we’ve never succeeded in breaking into our secure system. And, needless to say, we encourage our dealers to delete card data from their databases when they’ve processed it.

Do you ever plan to process credit card orders through your database (rather than simply passing on the info to the lister) and, if so, will the lister or buyer bear the processing cost, and how long will it take to get payment to the lister?

No. Although we’re based in Switzerland, we have no plans to enter the banking sector. I believe the model whereby an intermediary, in addition to the card companies, processes card data is fundamentally flawed. It’s not secure and it’s too expensive for whoever ends up paying for the processing. In an international context, the effects of currency fluctuations are an additional burden, and the problems of returns, chargebacks, fraud, typos, etc., simply make this model untenable.

Do you have any plans for programs associated with your database that would involve anything other than direct contact between seller and buyer?

No. We believe in letting the dealer and buyer work things out to their mutual satisfaction. We intervene only if a buyer or a dealer feels badly done by.

Do you have or do you plan to have an “all word search” capability?

This is still difficult to reconcile with display speed when we list three million plus books. However, we have developed our own indexing methodologies that allow huge indexes of this kind to be regenerated in less than 24 hours (which is our index update cycle), so we might do this. We did program exactly this for the smaller database of Bibliopoly.

What search capabilities does your database have now? What is planned for the future?

On the main search page, we have most of the usual search capabilities – author, title, publisher, etc., and we attempt to allow searches by book language. It’s also possible to search our list of dealers by name or country and consult their stock from their on-the-fly home page – by catalogue or normal search. However, searches depend on the data provided by the dealers, and in many cases the field structure precludes really good searches. I think as database managers, we more or less have to follow the development and acceptance by the dealers of good book management programs. However, we hope to encourage better data formatting with our assisted cataloging system, about which more below.

In the near future, we want to introduce display ranking, so that search returns can be ranked by price and so on. We already allow filtering by upload date.

On what will you base your listing fees? What fees do you have now or plan to have?

At present, listing on our main site is free. We plan to charge on a per order basis for sales generated by AddAll and Bookfinder, basically to cover the costs. Listing on those services will be opt-in and it will be possible to set a lower book price limit for AddAll/Bookfinder listings.

Do you plan to have or now have your database searched by Addall or Bookfinder or any other meta-search site?

We list on AddAll now and Bookfinder will be next.

How do you plan to advertise your database (both to draw listers and buyers)?

Good question! Marketing is our main expense and we are constantly testing new possibilities. Google AdWords was productive but became increasingly expensive with their new system. We do print campaigns when special opportunities offer themselves. I suspect that the smaller listing services will have to band together increasingly for marketing purposes.

What background or experience do you or other people involved with your database have that relates to the online book or online book database business?

Well, I was a research scientist until recently, so I’m able to boast twenty years of database management experience, but I guess forty years of book collecting counts the most.

Do you or are you planning to have professional management, bookseller management, or????

We offer several services to our dealers and the number will increase. Currently, any dealer listing on our database can have a custom search interface for the dealer’s own web site. It’s not mandatory to show any kind of link to, so the search and shopping basket are individual to the dealer.

We also offer a secure credit card data transfer system. This is a browser-based system for dealers who already process cards but need a secure way to collect card data from their customers. It works in conjunction with our shopping cart but can be used entirely independently at the same time.

We are programming a java-based, cross-platform book management software for another company which will market it as soon as development is complete.

What markets (geographical and/or demographic) are you aiming at?

With the multiple languages, we aim to bring in book buyers who are perhaps not completely happy buying online using an interface in a language they don’t understand very well. However, our aim is to cover as much of the book-buying population as has access to the internet.

What services/features does your database have that you feel sets you apart and/or will ensure the success of your database?

Well, our biggest bibliophilic project at present is an assisted cataloguing database which looks like being one of the most comprehensive databases of book records available online in one place. It far exceeds the content of the ISBN-based databases for the obvious reason that ISBNs go back only thirty years or so, while we have records back to the 16th Century. It allows users to search with extreme rapidity on the basis of one or two strings from the author, title, publisher, date and ISBN fields, to save and edit records, and to download them in the format of their choice to their own PCs and/or to the listing services of their choice. I guess the speed of the search was the biggest technological breakthrough in this project. We can search an author name in a database of around 12 million records in a few milliseconds. Our aim is to bring large numbers of hitherto uncatalogued books onto the market by greatly diminishing the labour of data entry, and of course we hope that a certain number of these books will be sold via A side effect, but an important one, will be more comprehensive book records which will suit the kind of search mechanism that uses.




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