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

85 - 94% 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.


Phoebe Fay said...

A star for just breathing. How very egalitarian of them.

Mike said...

So using this rating system, I am a 1 star bookseller? That's great since I have never sold a book in my life. at least not one that I hadn't stolen.

Colonel Colonel said...

Phoebe- actually, since you get a star for 0%, I suppose you don't even have to be breathing to get a star.

Mike- It matters not what they are, where you got them, or even if you have them. All you have to do is ship them. You qualify. And you get a pretty red star.

You may also get a star for surviving in Utah for six months without taking out an entire Wal*Mart with an automatic weapon, but that's another thread.

Joey Polanski said...


I jus checkd th Polanski Show Booksellr Ratings an it gots Colonel Colonel ratd as "One Righteous Dude."

Seems th Polanski Show Ratin Systm is basd on whethr th booksellr is one righteous dude.

Colonel Colonel said...

Joey- Thank you, thank you! And thank God I got that final "e" restored...

Phoebe Fay said...

Colonel - Re Mike, the WalMart and automatic weapons... For some reason, the phrase "don't speak too soon" comes to mind.

Also, I don't know if I'm a one-star or five-star seller. I'm thinking five star, since I've shipped 100 percent of nothing. Which means I've also shipped 50 percent of nothing.

I'd do more calculations, but I'm afraid that if I keep up like this, I'm going to get a divide-by-zero error and break the whole winternet.

Colonel Colonel said...

Phoebe- 100% of nothing is 100% Five red stars for you!

Just don't punch that zero butto-

Joey Polanski said...

Gods pretty good at perducin extra Es.

Loafs & fishs too, I thinkski.

Mike said...

Hey--Wal*Mart sells books too. They have both kinds of bibles.

Cissy Strutt said...

Colonel, as a woman customer (who had just ordered a non-Fiction book & proceeded to tell me the convoluted story that the book contained) said to me "You wouldn't read about it!"

I just smiled benignly & muttered to myself through clenched teeth "If you just wait a week to ten days, you will".

Colonel Colonel said...

Joey- yes, God gets 5 red stars. Of course, who'd dare four-star God?

Mike- Now there's a well-rounded store. But wait- you can't put The Bible on sale! My God ain't no freakin' Discount God!

Cissy- customers are such innocent creatures...

Book Doctor Gwen said...

The top tier is 95% -- Just a thought -- Most fake dealers with no stock can't maintain a fulfillment rate this high, so it will make them look like cheaters. Nevertheless, here's betting Abe changes nothing! 8-(

Colonel Colonel said...

Gwen- I was at first inclined to agree, but then I noticed that one of the worst "no stockers" has five stars... at this point I don't mind the rating system if they just call it what it is. I got a reply to my email to them, and I know others have as well. I think they probably will make some adjustments, and would be very surprised if they do not change "Bookseller Rating" to something more accurate.

But we'll see.

Thanks for coming by and commenting!!

Chatterton --the marvellous boy. said...

Thank you Mad bookseller you put the case well indeed...

The new ABE feedback programme is entirely self serving, it is not there to help buyers identify incompetent or rogueish booksellers -it is really meant to prevent sellers from cancelling orders and then selling to the same buyer directly. If they do this they will end up with a poor looking rating however professional, knowledgeable and honest they are.

As you say It's all about completion, there is no other criteria--it makes the Ebay feedback system look full of integrity, honour and decency. Hopefully ABEs new stratagem will further drive booksellers to find alternative ways of selling books online and will lead to the death, destruction and annihilation of ABE. But I doubt it. Meanwhile many booksellers vehemently detest them and wish them every possible lack of luck. I know I do.

Counter intuitively - if they weren't so greedy they would probably make more money.