Powell’s Books, “the world’s largest new and used bookstore,” located in Portland, OR, has joined our neighborhood bookstore program.
This means that work pages now show store-by-store availability from Powell’s, alongside the other bookstores you elect. You can click to find out details, hold the book or buy it online.
There are a couple of ways of add Powell’s to your LibraryThing “experience.” The easiest is to go to edit your profile. Down at the bottom you’ll see bookstores, including Powell’s.
In keeping with the neighborhood focus on the program, we’ve split the data out individual Powell’s locations, and not counted inventory in warehouses, whether in Oregon or elsewhere. This meant that—barring last-minute changes—if it shows up on LibraryThing, they have it in stock where it says. We’ve also broken up results into New, Sale and Used categories.
As elsewhere, we pull in all editions of a work, from the paperback to the hardback to the CD version—even versions in other languages. In some ways, this “works”-level view of Powell’s inventory goes beyond what they do. (And in some ways it’s more annoying, since LT’s first result may be the French version on eight-track tape.)
What it means. First, we hope this makes our Portland members happy; they’ve been agitating for us to do something with Powell’s for a long time now.
It may be a bigger win. So far, our bookstore program has been small. We still have only eleven bookstores in the system, six Powell’s stores and five others. But Powell’s is the biggest independent and a leader of them. We hope it convinces others to take advantage of us on this—completely free—service.
We’re particularly interested in getting Booksense stores in. We already parse the Booksense format, so we could add a few hundred stores with virtually no effort.
The big picture. On the web, books are broken. A few small parts are solved or on their way—Amazon, Abebooks.com, Google, Powells—and this gives many the illusion that books are a solved problem. But the rest of the “bibliosphere” isn’t where it could be. Libraries and publishers, authors and most bookstores are adrift, and not part of the conversation.*
But things are changing. One day—not too far off—local bookstores will be fully “on” the web, just like Amazon is. They’ll not only have websites, they’ll have feeds and APIs, and sites like LibraryThing will be able to give and get data seamlessly. You’ll be able to find a book in your town as easily as you find a pizza. They’ll be truly part of the web, not just on it.
We’re not there yet. Most of the bookstores we’ve worked with have had another, different data format. None have APIs.
But it’s going to happen! And we think that, if we keep working to hook up the pieces, we’ll be part of the solution.
*My correspondent at Powell’s asked me for examples. Here’s my rant/reply:
You can’t Google a book and find out where in town to get a copy. You can’t Google a book and find out whether your public library has a copy. Your library doesn’t know the author is touring the area. The author doesn’t know which independent bookstores are selling the most copies, and so where to read. Bookstore software is crap and most independent bookstores aren’t online at all. The second-largest US bookstore chain—Borders—is less online that Powell’s! Libraries are absolutely *terrible* online; you will rarely get a library in the first ten pages of a Google search because search engines can’t “see inside” library websites. Library data is largely inaccessible and dominated by an inflexible data monopoly. Book data is mostly from Amazon or from a welter of other companies that don’t or can’t help any but the largest providers. Publisher websites a seldom more than 1990s brochure-ware. Small presses sometimes have good websites, but aren’t included in the book-data game. There’s no online network for authors and agents. There isn’t even a decent “works” system for books—and to the extent there are systems like this, publishers and libraries have completely different systems.
PHOTO CREDIT: Powells.com.