Six months after being officially rolled out at BookExpo America this spring, Above the Treeline's interactive digital catalogue service, Edelweiss, is receiving accolades from its intended users. While a few booksellers contacted by PW have admitted to a steep learning curve with the service, participating publishers and most of the booksellers report that the Web tool, created to supplement or even replace traditional printed catalogues, has exceeded expectations in streamlining communications between them.

Edelweiss offers a single universal interface for booksellers to search for and review both frontlist and select backlist titles from different publishers, while sales reps can mark up the online catalogues for their accounts. Reps are able to include sales histories for comparable titles, track orders, update title information, and even customize catalogues for individual booksellers. In-house book publicists also are taking advantage of the system, adding marketing and publicity updates to catalogue pages.

“It's an information marketplace, and publishers control the experience,” explained John Rubin, ATL's CEO. ATL has provided business intelligence tools to the book world since Rubin founded the company in 2002. While Edelweiss is a fee-based service for publishers, access is free to its 700 registered end users, who, besides booksellers, primarily include librarians and literary bloggers—two groups that Rubin refers to as “professional readers.” To date, 80% of the 200 independent trade booksellers who are using ATL's sales data and inventory management system have signed up to use Edelweiss.

With the recent addition of Norton and Quayside Publishing Group, Edelweiss currently enables booksellers to search for and review approximately 30,000 titles published by 25 trade and academic presses under some 750 imprints. Presses represented include major trade publishers like Random House, HarperCollins, and Hachette, as well as Ingram Publisher Services. Rubin claims the publishers whose catalogues are accessible via Edelweiss account for perhaps 70% of a typical independent bookstore's sales.

While one Iowa bookstore contacted by PW expressed a preference for individual print catalogues to digital after the staff encountered continuing difficulties in using Edelweiss, others expressed unabashed enthusiasm for the convenience. Matt Norcross, co-owner of McLean & Eakin in Petoskey, Mich., called Edelweiss “really terrific” and “easy to use,” especially when there's some downtime while he is on the sales floor. “I can quickly pull up a catalogue online and check it out for 20 minutes,” he said. “I don't have to run downstairs to look through catalogues.”

As Rubin continues to work on getting the word out about Edelweiss—most recently by offering hands-on demonstrations at the regional bookseller trade shows this past fall—he regards individual sales reps' attitudes toward Edelweiss as key to its reception. “When a rep is engaged with Edelweiss, we tend to see a lot of stores in their territory using it,” he told PW. “I can't see a greater variable than reps talking it up to their accounts.”

Publisher Support

Kate McCune, a HarperCollins sales rep, whose territory cuts a swath from northern Michigan through Tennessee, confirmed Rubin's assessment. Edelweiss is a “good ordering, research, and reference tool” that's especially effective for retail stores, she said, emphasizing that it complements HarperCollins's own digital catalogue, which is “designed for broader purposes.” Recalling a recent sales call with Arsen Kashkashian, head buyer for Boulder Bookstore in Boulder, Colo., McCune described Kashkashian using Edelweiss to pull up title information, review comp-title sales histories, order online, upload his order into the bookstore's inventory system, and tag details relevant to the store's marketing staff. “I am seeing the future, watching him work,” she said of Kashkashian completing in minutes tasks that previously took him hours. “Edelweiss allows you to be as involved as you want to be.”

Ruth Liebmann, Random House's director of independent bookselling, called Edelweiss another element in a reps' toolkit, one that can cut down on administrative time and allow reps and buyers to look at more real-time information. “We'd rather have booksellers on the floor, selling books, than in the back-office doing data entry,” Liebmann said, recounting reports of booksellers “swooning” after importing an order from the Edelweiss system into their POS systems, “saving them literally days of work.”

While Rubin, publishers, and booksellers insisted that Edelweiss cannot replace sales reps, they do concede that Edelweiss may give veteran reps who are knowledgeable about their accounts' needs less reason to visit those stores every season.

One rural South Dakota bookseller, Peggy Bieber of Little Professor Book Center in Aberdeen, who is contemplating signing up for Edelweiss after trying it out at MBA, considers the service a boon: as a small-business owner, she has little downtime to talk to sales reps, though only three reps—down from a dozen before publisher cutbacks—currently visit Little Professor, which is located 150 miles from the nearest other independent bookstore. “You need to build a relationship with the rep, so they know you and your store,” she said. “But for smaller, remote stores, it's going to be really good for us. It's time-saving, both for the rep and for me.”