How APIs could alleviate book industry supply chain pain.

Posted by on Apr 30, 2017 in Tips tricks and ideas | No Comments

This topic is on the table at every conference, I think we could move forward if we understood that supply chain issues are generally information issues.

This years Leading Edge conference was no exception and I see it on the upcoming ABA agenda as well. I stood up at the LE conference to back Chris Redfern’s call for a way to get price and availability information directly from suppliers. I talked about “APIs” as a great solution and think I left most in the room wondering – ‘what on earth is he talking about’ so let me try again…

I want to raise this again because I think APIs could be a solution for the industry that is easy and cost effective to implement. The exchange above followed a panel discussion where publishers talked about needing to rebuild Title Page, the high cost of doing this and the need for these costs to be shared.

Firstly what is an API? API stands for: Application Programming Interface. (For the techo’s out there RESTful APIs are exactly what we want.)  For the non technical an API is like a web page login at the distributor that computer systems can use to get information directly such as price and availability. Restful APIs could also be used to better automate things like ordering and returns and to provide real time status updates on these. Publishers could use APIs to deliver rich title data directly to those that need it to sell books. There are a lot of possibilities.

The old Title Page approach (where suppliers sent in ONIX files) made sense in a world where there was no internet, but it doesn’t any longer. Large ONIX files with all the stock a supplier has are slow to create, slow to send and slow to load. The data also dates as soon as it is sent. On top of this ONIX files are a mess, despite being a standard every supplier seems to use them in a different way. I feel sorry for the likes of Nielsen and Title Page that have to put all these divergent things together in one place.

The advantage of the API approach is that the need for large and cumbersome file transfers is removed. Systems simply get the data they need as and when required directly from the suppliers system via their API. It makes automation and real time information possible.

In my view this is the way we need to be thinking in this day and age. It is the standard way to operate in a web environment, will save everyone money and work better. In the scheme of things it should not be that big a job for a supplier to put in an API. Many systems probably already have them and APIs are getting into the realm of being a necessary part of doing business like having a customer support service or website.

With APIs in place everyone that needs data can easily get it as requited, be they centralised databases like Nielsen or Title Page, POS providers like us or online sellers.

Warwick Schaffer
Founder
Circle Software Ltd