Alphabet Soup: ASIN

ASIN stands for Amazon Standard Identification Number. Amazon assigns this to all products sold on its sites. For books, the ASIN is the ISBN. For non-book products (tee-shirts, lawn furniture) or extra-book products (chapters, short stories, etc.), the ASIN is an internal identifier that assists in transactions. The ASIN is a proprietary identifier – in other words, no other merchant besides Amazon will ever require it – which means that smaller manufacturers (or publishers) are locked into sales with Amazon because Amazon essentially supplies the bar code for online sales – implied in the ASIN. More about the ASIN can be found here. (The interaction between ASIN and global sales is interesting!)

From Systems To Metadata

There are many services out there that handle workflows. Some are comprehensive, like IngentaConnect and Klopotek. These cover every aspect of the publishing process, from title management to warehousing to metadata distribution. Some focus on specific parts of the publishing process – Firebrand focuses on title management and metadata extracts; Iptor includes modules for paper/print/binding and warehouse functionality; MetaComet focuses exclusively on royalty tracking. You may find yourself having to use portions of some put together – for example, Firebrand and MetaComet are able to integrate. Or you may find yourself using non-publishing-specific tools like SAP, which feed into systems like Firebrand or Klopotek.

Or, you may have your own in-house tools to manage workflows. Smaller publishers have made their businesses work on a series of spreadsheets stored in a central location, to which only a few people have access. Or a SQL database to handle title management with third-party tools for other functionalities.

All of which is to say that, in my experience, workflow management systems are somewhat Rube-Goldberg in nature, and there are usually systems talking to other systems. There’s double-keying – entering the same information in multiple systems. And there’s also a lot of sneaker-net.

These systems’ relationships to one another are complex. I’ve worked at McGraw-Hill, Bowker, Barnes & Noble, and consulted to many, many publishers and aggregators – and I have NEVER seen a smoothly running set of interoperating systems where everything worked elegantly and produced perfect and timely metadata with a minimum of effort. One or two components may be problem-free, but as a whole, there are ghosts in our machines.

And that affects workflow, of course. Certain jobs can only run at night, which means real-time data isn’t available. Your warehouse data runs on an open source platform which isn’t sufficiently supported. Your sales staff keeps entering endorsements in the reviews field because their system doesn’t have an endorsements field. Your company has acquired another company and the systems need to merge. Your digital asset management system is literally a box of CDs.

So there are lots of points where these systems don’t align perfectly, and that is going to affect the quality of output.

One way to begin to tackle this is to structure your system so that there’s a single repository everyone can tap into. Fran Toolan at Firebrand calls it the “Single Source of Truth” – having a central repository means you don’t have competing spreadsheets on people’s hard drives, or questions about whether you’ve got the latest version of information about a book.

Read more about these types of problems in the publishing supply chain in The Book On Metadata.