Absurdity

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Odengatan, Stockholm 31 December 2006 around 3pm

Odengatan One

Odengatan Two

Filed under: Swedish Life

Shane MacGowan’s blog

The Guardian have given Shane MacGowan his own blog. Loveable as always. Not advocating too much silliness but he was always someone whose poetic soul was an inspiration to me and one of my oldest friends. Back in a time when my friend Paul used to wake me up by setting fire to me and we breakfasted on Brandy Alexanders.

Filed under: Music

Book categories, BIC and the customer

Just noticed that Howard Willows from Bookdata in the UK has responded to a letter I sent to the Bookseller. I may not have been as articulate as I perhaps should have been but point was really trying to highlight was the confusion that I come across at many publishers when it comes to categorisation coupled with what some of the retailers have been saying. With a twist of some articles on the organisation of publishers into subject guided publishing units (Thomas Nelson for example). Surely, whatever the rights and wrongs these are the two principal groups who should be primarily served by the categorisation system and they feel failed by it.

Anyway, my letter followed by Howard’s response followed by Emma Barnes of Snowbooks.

BIC: wake up
This is a letter to try to raise a little awareness of the categorisation problem that exists on both sides of the Atlantic in the book trade.

I was very interested in the recent article in Publishers Weekly about the publisher Thomas Nelson in the US moving away from organising itself along imprint lines but doing so by reference to the BISAC category codes. It seems largely because that better represents how people actually buy books, and also because of the data publishers collect, from Nielsen et al, about which categories are strongest, so they can identify any weaknesses in their offerings. This, of course, makes perfect sense, and brings me to the equivalent categorisation scheme in the UK known as BIC and propagated by the Book Industry Communication group. This scheme has long been a bugbear of mine and of many of the publishers that I visit.

As someone who has for many years provided databases to publishers containing fields enabling them to categorise their books via the BIC scheme, I have often been frustrated that it seems to be so imbalanced, and whole swathes of cultural phenomena seem to pass it by. For example, lots of archaeology but just the bare bones for fiction. Modern developments such as podcasting and social networking are nowhere to be found.

The BIC standard seems to be dominated by those who shouted the loudest, and I have not seen any mention of actually using the rich vein of data that has been gathered via electronic point of sale, BookScan and so on about how customers find the stuff they want.

What I would say slightly in defence of BIC is that there seems to be representation from almost none of the vast bulk of the actual publishers. Surely, categorisation should surely be an exercise between them and their customers (or their customer data at the very least)?

So many times when I am demonstrating software I find that the client publisher struggles to fit its “round” book into the “square” peg of the BIC system. How can that be sensible?

So, in conclusion, some suggestions for improvement:
1) Allow customer data to better inform the process.
2) Allow for a better balance (i.e. make sure that everything may be categorised to the same level, not some subjects to the nth degree and others only superficially).
3) Give more weight to the “long tail”. Categorisation should not be by a handful of the larger retailers and only the very largest publishers.
4) And for God’s sake it is 2006 and things change–so keep it contemporary, or whole swathes of books representing what people are thinking and feeling, how they are interacting and what they are doing now will slip through the net because no one can bloody find them.”

Howard’s response on 17 November 2006

Touchy subjects
I am always heartened when the oft-neglected issue of subject classification is raised in the book trade. But Robin Tobin (Letters, 27th October) mixes some good points with fundamental misunderstandings about the BIC Subject Categories scheme.

Perhaps Mr Tobin is unaware that BIC was updated this April. BIC Version 2.0 (BIC2) includes a Digital Lifestyle section, for iPods and so on, among other changes. By all means let the scheme be updated more regularly, but beware the pursuit of flash-in-the-pan trends.

Of course the “vast bulk” of publishers are unrepresented on the review committees–there are more than 70,000 publishers on BookData’s database. BIC2 contains input from a range of publishers, distributors and booksellers of all sizes, and is open to suggestions from everyone in the trade.

Despite all this input, BIC2 regrettably still has only the “bare bones” for Fiction; or, to be precise, 38 categories for Fiction, including Graphic Novels. If Mr Tobin can find a way of subdividing the great mass of general or non-genre fiction, I would be intrigued to find out how. I’m baffled by his proposed use of Epos data; the BIC scheme is for subject classification, not sales analysis.

Essentially, the BIC scheme operates as a kind of lingua franca between partners exchanging information about books. It has to cover the full gamut of publishing, while giving a level of detail to each area that is neither impenetrable to the layman nor laughably trite to the expert. In short, an impossible task, but we are always keen to have constructive criticism and suggestions.

Howard Willows
Nielsen BookData
85-95 Queensway, Stevenage
Hertfordshire SG1 1EA’

Emma’s response:

‘To the editor of the Bookseller:
Howard Willows wrote in recently to respond to Robin Tobin on the subject of BIC classification codes. Robin was disappointed that BIC codes don’t better reflect the way customers mentally group books. Howard pointed out that BIC codes are a kind of lingua franca for supply chain data – it’s not a sales grouping or a customer-led classification – it’s intended for internal use between publishers and retailers, so naturally it doesn’t attempt to reflect customer thinking. But that still leaves me puzzled. Because it’s for use out of sight of the customer, I can accept that BIC codes must be modelled on the internal data requirements of the supply chain. And if they happen to be at odds with customer thinking, then too bad: it’s not about them. But what are the internal data requirements of the book supply chain? And what would the classifications they generate be useful for? I hope I’m not missing the obvious, but all I can come up with is that the retailer would use those groupings for aggregating performance data and for planning ranges – in other words for putting together their customer offer and then reviewing its success. That’s a highly customer-dependent activity. Publishers too might look at which classifications their titles fall into as a way of gauging the strengths, and the gaps, in their list, as well as identifying where the profits are coming from: in other words, range planning and sales analysis. And both of those activities are best done with a classification based on the way customers mentally group books and then make their purchases.

Whether creating such a classification is a task that BIC – or anyone else for that matter – can truly succeed at is a different question. It’s likely to be a moving target, for a start. But that’s slightly off the point. I’m still at a loss to understand what internal supply chain use Howard has in mind that takes precedence over a customer and sales led approach. In the age of category management, when retailers reorganise their processes – even their office space – around the way customers group products, I think that the necessity that has drawn BIC away from thinking about the customer had better be an awfully good one.’

Filed under: Publishing

Some moving advice

Don’t unless you have enough money to get someone else to do it while you are on holiday. Don’t do it at very short notice all on the one day when you have a moutain of work to do in another country. And if you have to go to IKEA make sure the first purchase for your new place is a bucket of wine. You’ll need it.

Moving

Filed under: Absurdity, Daily Life

Heavy rotation w/e 10/12/06

According to my iTunes library the tracks most played in the last week making it to the Heavy Rotation Tape:

1) Thin Blue Flame – Josh Ritter from the very excellent ‘The Animal Farm

2) 4 More – De La Soul from their ‘Best of

3) Help Me Somebody – Brian Eno and David Byrne from the never diminishing and opening minds ‘My Life in the Bush of Ghosts

4) Blues for 3 + 1 – Jimmy Smith from ‘Talkin’ Verve: Roots of Acid Jazz’ have always been a fan since bought a £1.99 compilation tape which actually contained his earlier Blue Note stuff but still remember that incredible sound in my then posh JVC walkmen.

5) The Return of Jackie and Judy – Tom Waits from what for me is probably my record of the year ‘Orphans: Bawlers, Brawlers, Bastards

Will be on my iDisk for day or so.

Heavy Rotation Tape

Filed under: Music

And sometimes Onix doesn’t take me great places

It seems that time of year where people start looking back so was reviewing some of the grimmer moments from my Onix evangelism this year. My mission does take me some amazing places but for every Dingle there is arriving at a minor airport in the middle of the night with no hotel or missing the last train. So, in no particular order the moments from the Onix missions that stick in the memory from the last 12 months. The moments that made me think – why on earth do I do this?

1) Could have picked any number of scrapes with US Homeland Security in last few months but perhaps worst was being held for 6 hours at Newark Airport in Jersey after long flight from Amsterdam. This is the view after eventually got released from SkyTrain on way to airport train station and civilisation (well Manhattan at least). Was only in New York for 3 days I think. However, as US Immigation had held the bag with all my cables in Amsterdam had to go to the Apple Store on 5th Avenue at 5am and spend three hundred bucks to replace them as had to start running an Onix training session from 8am. America has lost the right to talk to anyone about rights, democracy or quite frankly much else:

New skytrain
2) Delayed flight back from America with early morning start at Oxford (UK) publisher (Bible Reading Fellowship I think). Got Oxford coach from Heathrow fell asleep and overshot my stop and had to trudge across Oxford in the rain at 3am. This is the High Street – again way too old:

Oxford High Street

3) I get on a plane I would guess at least once/twice a week on average and have done for best part of a decade. Considering, that I don’t really have too many airport/plane horror stories (maybe because I try and avoid BA in recent summers?) but what I do have are lots of little ones. This image is from one of them. Sat on the floor at the gate at Toronto airport for 6 hours while waiting for a thunderstorm to pass before could board flight to Frankfurt. Was exhausted. But as knackered/pissed off as those of us waiting to board the flight it was as nothing to those who were stuck on the in bound flight on the runway and couldn’t disembark:

Toronto airport

4) There is just something disturbing about fast food German style and I’m reminded each year in Frankfurt:

German food

5) As grim as eating at Frankfurt Bookfair can be at least you can eat (sort of). One of the worst experiences of the year on this Onix mission must have been London Bookfair. Shambles!!! Couldn’t eat/find anything/get a drink/get a tube/might as well have been on the moon. I wrote a little about it here. This image captures trying to get a drink at the end of the day (good luck with that):

LBF

6) Had to go up to a place called Rochester. This is deep in the hills of Vermont. This is January (so lots of snow); there is no train/bus up there; I don’t have a car; I woke up in Midtown Manhattan and the bus that was going to get at least part way there was in Boston. You can kind of imagine how it went but did eventually make it and talked about title management and of course Onix as this image bears witness (alright it’s just a shot of a small town in the snow but you’ll have to take my word for it – that is Rochester, Vermont, USA):

Rochester, Vermont

7) Just one of those weekends where you really wonder what it is you’re doing and why. A weekend sat in a motel on the outskirts of Kent, Ohio, USA looking through 20 years of title information from Kent State University Press and trying to steer it down the Onix compliant boulevard. It was Superbowl weekend. The motel was stuck on its own couple of miles out of town with just a garage and Mexican restaurant for company. So, in between times spent my time wandering back and forth to the garage to buy 6 packs of beer to stick in my sink full of ice. This is the view from door looking out at the dormant swimming pool:

Kent motel

8) And finally, Luton Bus Station at around 4am after again delayed flight (this time from Stockholm) on way to London for breakfast meeting. Truly grim and suspect even people born and raised in that town would say that:

Luton

Filed under: Uncategorized

New York Stories in Stockholm blog

Just picked up an email from Margaret (the proprietor of New York Stories ) that they have started a new blog. This is a great english language bookshop in Vasastan in Stockholm that I have written about before. Great books, great relxed shop and great people – get along there if you are in Stockholm if not check out the blog.

Filed under: Publishing, Swedish Life

Christmas comes to my little office

The staples of a Swedish Christmas went up in my office today. Where has the year gone? Anyway the star for my window and the lights for my desk:

Star

Desk light

Filed under: Daily Life, Swedish Life

Sony – what were you thinking?

Apple ad

Seriously Sony what are you thinking? – don’t you have enough cash left after the PS3/exploding batteries/general screw ups to get you own ads? And the stupid rollover over sounds – a three year would think were juvenile. I won’t describe as just too sad but check it out from their site here. Oh, it seems the page is down through embarrasment or just crappness – who knows! Anyway, you can see what I’m talking about by clicking here:

Sad Sony

Would like to be a fly on the wall of Steve Jobs office this morning. Though I suspect best way forward would just to laugh at them.

Filed under: Absurdity, Daily Life, Technology

Onix takes me great places (sometimes)

Spent last week mostly in Dingle in the West Coast of Ireland helping out with some Onix compliance. My Onix mission has taken me some strange and often grim places (forty dollar motel next to freeway in middle of Ohio for Superbowl Weekend this year being one particulary horrible memory) but just occassionally it ain’t too bad.

This is view from window while sorting through bibliographic data for one publisher (Brandon Books) overlooking Dingle harbour.

Dingle through the window

And the grey Irish sky:

Dingle sky

Filed under: Onix, Publishing

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