Friday, June 01, 2007
Bookselling World in Turmoil-
The bookselling world is in turmoil this morning (and how long I've waited to be able to write such a phrase) as ABE (the Canadian-based Advanced Book Exchange) has announced it will be instituting a new "seller rating system".
Ratings systems are nothing new- Ebay has its famous feedback system which has many faults and loopholes, and is endlessley abused by its users, but is at least something. Ratings systems on the book databases are much rarer, so the ABE announcement has everyone talking. The new system will be based on a bookseller's "completion rate", or the ratio of the number of orders he receives to the number he actually ships (instead of canceling them because the book is not available) and which do not get returned by the customer.
On the surface its not a bad idea, but the problem with the new ABE system is in the details, and they are troublesome to many sellers. To begin with, what the general public will see when the system goes "live" next week, is a range of red stars next to each dealer's name, labeled "Bookseller Rating".
Now that's very deceptive, because anyone seeing the phrase "Bookseller Rating" with stars after it is apt to conclude that such a rating rates a whole slew of functions a bookseller performs, such as ability to properly describe an item, speedy shipping, proper packing, trustworthiness, professionalism, fairness, knowledge, and so on. In the ABE system, none of this is the case- your "Bookseller Rating" is based solely on what percentage of orders received you send out. It becomes even more of a problem because ABE is also introducing the ability for customers to restrict their results to only dealers with 5 stars, or 4 stars.
To be fair, ABE does explain that the "Bookseller Rating" is based soley on the completion rate, but you have to hover your cursor over the stars and click to get that explanation box to come up. How many people are going to do that? Very few, I would guess.
If you do that, you get a box with the following information-
AbeBooks Bookseller Ratings
Bookseller ratings are based on completion rate, calculated by the number of items shipped (vs. cancelled at order processing) minus the number of items returned. Booksellers with higher ratings cancel fewer orders and receive fewer returns.
95 - 100% Completion Rate
70 - 84% Completion Rate
60 - 69% Completion Rate
0 - 59% Completion Rate
This brings us to another problem with the system- it is heavily weighted. Why does the 5th star stand for a mere 5%, when the 4th star covers 10%, the third star 15%, and you get one star for basically just breathing- anything between 0% and 59% gets you a star! It has been suggested on several bookseller lists that it would be within ABE's technical capabilities, and would be much fairer, to simply have a line labeled "Bookseller's Completion Rate" followed by an actual percentage based on exactly the same figures they are now using. This would give us less weighting of the results, a less misleading label, and a generally fairer system.
The system, as currently shown, is confusing and I hope ABE fixes it before they roll it out to the public.