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Tomorrow’s Tools for Managing Data

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Checking out new software isn’t always an exciting activity, but it was at ACUTECH 2003 in Santa Fe late last year, thanks to ACUMEN’s vision of the future of publishing.

CyberWolf, parent company of ACUMEN, created ACUTECH in response to requests from publishers in the ACUMEN Networked Users Group. The event attracted 150 attendees–including many PMA members, plus representatives of ACUMEN and seven other vendors–who want to do business electronically 24/7, both with consumers and B2B through the Web, not only to automate many of the tasks inherent in this business, but to remain viable trading partners for major retailers and wholesalers. As Larry Wolf, CyberWolf’s president and chief technology officer, pointed out, “We are rapidly moving to a virtual marketplace. This is the fastest-growing channel of the publishing industry.”

Here’s a quick look at new products that struck me as especially interesting.

Power Web and Power Web B2B.The key functionality here is that a publisher’s Web site is driven from its ACUMEN database. Publishers can immediately see the benefits of this for consistency and reducing complexity. Since the ACUMEN database also serves as the Web database, there is a single repository of data.

A new B2B module for PowerWeb allows users to accept open account orders from retailers and wholesalers via the Web. This module displays customer-specific discounts, freight, and terms; accepts purchase orders; and lets customers view their account order history online.

eCommerce Interchange Module. By connecting the PowerWeb site directly to the ACUMEN order processing system, this module allows exchanges of order information without further inputting, and automatically provides e-mail confirmations of orders received and shipped. It integrates FedEx and UPS shipping data and can be set up to send confirmations to specific customers even for orders received by mail or phone.

Also, it sends title updates to Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, Baker & Taylor, and others throughout the book wholesaling and retailing supply chain on a regular basis.

Since each of a publisher’s trading partners may require information to be submitted in a different way, its Data Sender function offers reports in the form required by a distribution partner and supports ONIX, the Online Information Exchange standard format. “It shapes the data in the format that the distribution node asks for, be it XML or another format. They’re not all wanting XML at this point,” said Jon Weaver, ACUMEN marketing specialist.

Changes to data in the ACUMEN database can be automatically communicated to a publisher’s trading partners without using a third-party source, which saves money and gives the publisher flexibility and control.

Another new Data Sender feature provides the ability to e-mail ACUMEN documents such as customer statements, invoices, and sales and financial reports as PDF files on either a one-time or scheduled basis.

E-mail List Management. This new product provides a platform for permission-based e-mail marketing, eliminating problems caused by having to create and maintain different e-mail marketing lists. Using its capabilities for HTML mail creation, mail merge, bulk e-mail control, pick-up, and tracking, a publisher can mail to multiple customers, contacts, authors, teachers, reviewers, reps, or any other groups at the same time

SalesReveal. One of the most exciting new products demonstrated, SalesReveal, quickly analyzes multiple databases, including information from distributors in different sales channels, from various order processing systems or from customer databases. So a publisher can analyze not only its own ACUMEN database, but also any other database at the same time with the same criteria, and combine results in reporting. Output can be in custom reports or in Word or Excel format.

The ability to analyze multiple databases simultaneously with one program is a big help in producing key account analyses for business review meetings, gap analyses for analyzing actual versus planned orders by account, and sales analyses comparing any number of time periods. And when retailers and wholesalers push point-of-sale data back to publishers–which will soon become a common practice–SalesReveal will let the publishers track a title through the entire distribution chain.

Publishers that also function as distributors can use the Consignment Distribution module to automate systems for reporting sales and returns of other publishers’ products and related distribution fees.

Publishers that use book trade distributors such as PGW or NBN can use the Fulfillment Import module to import all customer and sales activity into ACUMEN for accounting, royalty reporting, and sales analysis.

The Point of Sale and Conferencing module allows a publisher to support a storefront operation for retail sales, or to take orders at offsite conferences and import them into home-office data for fulfillment. A Subscription module is available for magazines or newsletters.

Micro Marketing Today and Tomorrow

Steve Weintraub, president of Lawyers and Judges Publishing, voiced one of the repeated themes of the conference by calling ours a macro-to-micro world. Publishers need to move, and are moving, from an old mass-marketing approach (macro) where data were difficult to measure, to a new one-to-one marketing approach (micro) with systems that make data easy to measure. The software development process has entailed publishing community involvement, and ACUTECH 2003 provided another opportunity for users to help create the software they will need in the coming years.

A co-founder and publisher of two successful trade book publishers–HPBooks and Fisher Books–Howard W. Fisher is managing director of The Fisher Company, which helps growing publishers with business development, finance and operations, and mergers and acquisitions. A former PMA president, he is a frequent PMA University presenter. To reach him, e-mail howard.fisher@thefishercompany.com.

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