Access to information - New information services for the end-user

Information services of the traditional book trade sector

I. Introduction

II. Data conversion

III. Catalogues / Ordering systems

IV. Data supply for internal company networks

V. Offer one's own contents pages

VI. Author and publisher archives

VII. New partnerships

VIII. Accounting systems and collection

IX. Outlook


Access to the Internet has nowadays become a matter of fact , at least within the academic community. In comparison with other businesses the traditional book trade took at a rather early stage action in respect to pro-actively offering their services, e.g. making their catalogues available on-line. What has helped in doing this was the fact that since the mid-eighties the whole process of publishing was based on computerised databases due to economical reasons. It was possible to directly generate records from the database thereby avoiding potential errors and the time consuming development of a new lay-out. Therefore, by a simple definition of the interface it was no problem to produce an on-line version of the printed catalogue and to start off the prototype of an on-line bookshop.

Beside the traditional retail bookshops, a number of new on-line bookshops now emerged. It must be mentioned that in this initial period the typical mail order book trade was far less able to get a foot into the new on-line sector than the retail book trade.

Experiences in direct mailing, the existent infrastructure and customer contacts enable the book trade to point out the way towards the future with regard to new ways of distribution of electronic information.


The conversion of data from external databases into a uniform data structure has for several years already been the day-to-day business of bookshops. From all different sources and interfaces a standardised data structure has to be produced. The problem is that - apart from VLB, Books in Print, Bookbank, DVB, Bookfind, BNF, BNB and RNB - every publishing house that offers data in a structured way has its own format. Unfortunately, also the exchange formats used in libraries could not succeed within the book trade sector.

A flexible and compatible conversion software is even more important because former efforts of the economical committee of the "Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels” to standardise all bibliographical data only resulted in the exchange of ordering data between bookshops and the intermediate book traders.

This situation not only has an impact on the internal book trade work but also on the users of these CD-ROM databases in the libraries. For example, in the early eighties Lehmanns developed a software that enables the user to convert and generate ordering data from about 20 different databases (also including some on-line union

catalogues) irrespectively of dispatch publishing houses. This software is still used today by more than 100 libraries including some university libraries, although there are now some very efficient acquisition modules available via the integrated library systems.

At the moment Lehmanns is in the process of exploring a way to automatically assign short descriptions, contents pages or samples to the bibliographical data of a document even if the conversion process has to be done from a print copy.


An efficient research software is the basis for a successful on-line service. There are some very good examples (, which can be directly accessed by bookshops via link without having to keep the data up-to-date or to do any administrative work.

For the bookseller there exists only one disadvantage in this system. It is not possible to influence the contents of the database, neither on the additional insertion of pictures, contents lists, reviews, samples, blurbs nor on the full-text electronic document. Ii is extremely complicated - if at all possible - to include editorial amendments. But especially this availability of additional information which offers more than just the sheer bibliographical facts besides the facts "where to find what” will be an essential prerequisite for the further promotion and marketing of on-line products and finally determine the users decision to buy the product. Sooner or later this will be along with the quality and quantity of the database the main factor for its use, especially in the academic world. Funnily enough, in this field we are well ahead of the big American bookshops . This is because in America only books which have made it into the list of best-sellers have extra comments attached.

When an order is done electronically there is normally no documentation at all, unless the user makes a printout of the screen display or something similar. Lehmanns on-line bookshop takes into account the problematic issue of the verification of ordering data within each local system by transmitting the actual ordering data via email into a special format. The exchange format UK-Marc is used for this because it is as simple as possible and also used by Whitakers Bookbank products and can be implemented without major efforts into any ordering systems used by users.

In addition to on-line searches on the world-wide web Lehmanns also offers an interface by email. If requested, the title information can be delivered in a structured format:

"”: bibliographic details and all extra information (excluding pictures)

"”: bibliographic details in UK-Marc format.

As a supplement to the monographic database a free of charge test copy of Medline (for a restricted time period only) with all functionality of the SilverPlatter retrieval software is available via the Lehmanns server.


More and more companies and institutions build-up their own Intra- and Extranets. In addition to the canteen menue and the list of telephone numbers another possible use with highly guaranteed acceptance is a literature database based on specific company needs. This corresponds with the usual new publications lists but with essential advantages:

Companies or institutions normally are in charge of their retrieval software. Therefore it is insignificant on which platform the data is offered. A minimal solution to this are static HTML pages which Lehmanns can directly supply. Normally the data are processed and delivered by criteria given by the customer. Then they will be read into the local database and made available to staff, together with ordering or lending functions. Especially in this case it applies that only with the highest quantity of extra information the best use can be made. Lehmanns has started a trial run of this procedure together with the Special Information centre of Siemens. Every month about 2000 to 3000 titles are generated and exchanged through the World Wide Web download (


In the age of on-line publications the distribution book trade faces one big disadvantage: There are none or only a very few original documents at its disposal and therefore the distribution depends on the production of the publishing houses. One point about electronic publications is that their production is much cheaper than the production of print products. Without any difficulties second editions (depending on demand) can be produced at almost identical cost. An example is the re-print of 500-1000 pieces of the very successful German deblan-Linux-distribution (a double CD with installation guidelines). This could be done at the same cost as the cost of the first edition (on which the actual selling price has been calculated). The cost benefit of a substantially high quantity of first edition copies is so small with regard to the overall estimate that it would not count for the calculation of the shop price.

Of course this estimate is only valid given that the authors either produce the necessary software themselves or use standard software packages (HTML, Acrobat).

When using standard products it is important that publications can be offered both on- and off-line at the same time as either on disk or as print-on-demand publications. In such a case the author often only deals with one distributor who will be responsible for the other editorial work as well as take car of the sale to the customer.

By doing this the fixed cost is minimised, because the bookshop has not got an editorial department nor does it need production facilities or a re-sale department. It also does not run a separate distribution service, especially if the potential market is covered in wide areas by a branch network with associated on-line bookshops.

Some publications just seem to be made for this shortened publication process, e.g. conference proceedings. The mere papers, which normally appear under this type of publication, can be up-graded by the results of conference discussions. In the near future Lehmanns will run a trial test of such an email-based procedure in connection with the Spring Conference of the DPG. Also doctoral thesis can easily be published this way, if the legal situation is clarified.


The basis of the traditional bookshop is the shop itself. The basis of the on-line sale are efficient servers with fast connections. What is the use of the best application if the 64Kbit connection is already hopelessly busy when the third customer tries to get into it? The availability of server capacity and band width gives authors and publishers who have no access to their own network infrastructure, the chance to use archives, interfaces and even databases at a low cost. A simultaneous inclusion of their details into the on-line database goes without saying.


Internet technology makes co-operation with other partners, who are not necessarily involved in the book trade, possible. This would not be possible without the Internet. At first, co-operation with on-line services of the print media has to be mentioned. The traditional "reader's shops” can still be run single-handed, but it becomes much more complicated when go it goes on-line.

Maintenance of databases and invoicing are usually not the main business of a newspaper or magazine. This is the natural task of a bookshop which delivers on-line information on the subject "Bookshop” to a daily newspaper, if possible in the appropriate format. It is especially helpful for the user of the literature database to find additional links to reviewed titles. Amongst others Lehmanns co-operates with the following services: (= on-line service of "Berliner Tageszeitung”, "TIP”, "Berliner Kurier”) (= on-line service of "Berliner Tagesspiegel)” (= on-line service of Axel Springer publishing house) (= information service for doctors, pharmacists and vets)


The distribution book trade has long standing experience in the field of accounting and payment systems. Therefore it offers good conditions for the use as well as for trial runs of appropriate payment models for the invoicing with regard to electronic information. If on delivery a personal identity check is possible (address details, delivery note) electronic invoicing systems have been successful for several years in the area of on- and off-line accounting. Until now this has never been a problem for the on-line bookshops. If in doubt, the order simply will not be accepted. But there is great demand on both the customer's and the bookseller's sides to come up with a safe procedure of information exchange which goes beyond the mere data coding (SSL) and can be run economically for "big” as well as for "small” amounts.

When it comes to electronic information the actual physical delivery process has stopped. Since then it has become obvious that there must be a way to prove and authenticate the order both by the customer and the provider. Whether this can be satisfactorily achieved by using passwords is another matter.

Once the order has been placed several on-line bookshops nowadays offer the customer the possibility to follow the order through the different stages, from the ordering to the tracking when the goods have already left the bookshop.


If one believes the general trend, the academic retail book trade will have to face difficult times. As long as publications in the classical sense are concerned there are little alternatives to the retail book trade. But when it comes to the provision of purely electronic publications the ways of distribution have to be reassessed and newly defined.

Within the framework of Global Info (Global Electronic and Multimedia Information Systems for Science and Technology), a development project of bmb+f, Lehmanns is involved in the two main areas of "Metadata” and ”Models of economic efficiency”. Lehmanns, by the way, is the only bookshop that takes part in this project and tries to find new ways of a useful involvement. One aim of this project is to make academic information directly on-line available at the desk of the end-user.

But the exciting question still remains whether or not and how the academic retail book trade will succeed in making a useful contribution to the "beautiful new electronic world”.

Volker Thurner

Lehmanns Fachbuchhandlung, Berlin