Above the Treeline, which introduced its Edelweiss digital catalogue database to the industry at BookExpo America in 2009, continues to add to the services it provides to the 140 companies it works with, as well as to its 34,000 registered users. Most recently, Above the Treeline launched its Edelweiss Community social network. Community allows registered users to share book lists and reviews of any of the 516,000 titles in Edelweiss’s database with other registered users. Previously, to access reviews for a book posted by others, users would have had to check the publisher’s Edelweiss page.
“Any Edelweiss user can go in and invite other Edelweiss users to join his or her friend network so they can share select information,” explained John Rubin, Above the Treeline’s founder and CEO. Edelweiss user reviews automatically are sent to those in the reviewer’s social network, with the reviewer having the option of submitting it to the publisher as well. Reviews posted on each publisher’s pages are curated by the publisher to “maintain the integrity of the review,” Rubin said.
Edelweiss Community launched May 10 with 30 beta users—including publishers’ representatives and “professional readers,” (i.e., the booksellers, librarians, media, and bloggers who use Edelweiss). Less than two weeks later, 300 Edelweiss users each had at least one friend. “Some people have up to 50 friends,” Rubin said, explaining that the beta users invited others into their social networks, and those others then invited friends of their own. Community is now available to all registered Edelweiss users.
Robert Sindelar, a managing partner at Third Place Books in Seattle and one of the beta testers, praised Community’s potential as an industry-based social networking tool, allowing booksellers who rarely see each other to remain connected. “The information is there, the users are there; all you needed was the functionality,” he said, describing Edelweiss as having become “more interesting” to booksellers who aren’t buyers or who prefer print catalogues. “Having a social network gives general booksellers more reasons to get onto Edelweiss,” he said, adding that they “can find colleagues at other bookstores in other parts of the country who have similar tastes. And the number of eyes looking at catalogues... prepublication becomes greater.”
While an initiative allowing Edelweiss users to communicate with one another had been envisioned “for a while,” Rubin said, the decision to develop Community was accelerated after Amazon announced in late March that it was acquiring Goodreads. “We received a lot of e-mails from users saying, ‘We don’t want to be on Goodreads anymore, but we miss the community,’ ” Rubin said. “Hearing this feedback definitely made us move forward in providing a service to professional readers who previously used Goodreads as a means to communicate with their peers”—including Sindelar, who canceled his membership in Goodreads after Amazon’s announcement.
Sharing reviews is only the first step in Above the Treeline’s plan to enhance social networking opportunities within Edelweiss. By the end of May, when BEA is held, members will be able to share information and “excitement levels” with friends before reading a book. They will also be able to mark and share the titles they are anticipating or are reading. Edelweiss is working to add features that will allow users to sign up for e-mailed digests, provide reports on friends’ new activity, and see lists of friends’ friends, in order to identify potential friends. At some point, users will be able to join interest groups as well. In response to feedback, Above the Treeline has begun considering how to expand Community beyond booksellers to their customers.
While Above the Treeline has been providing booksellers with business-intelligence tools since Rubin founded the company in 2002, it’s now focusing on expanding Edelweiss’s capabilities, as well as growing the number of registered users. That strategy is paying off, with sales up 40% in the last fiscal year.
One new service from Above the Treeline that has been particularly successful is the feature that allows users to download digital review copies. In March 2013, there were 22,600 review-copy downloads, compared to 6,700 during the same month last year. Above the Treeline is also expanding its reach into the international market. The company recently rolled out its Template Builder, intended to assist publishers in preparing materials for international sales presentations. It allows them to create or modify existing PDFs and Powerpoint and Word documents within Edelweiss. And Above the Treeline is contracting with four U.K. publishers to add their lists to Edelweiss—a process that involved “localizing” the Web site by using British English, displaying prices in British currency, and modifying dates.