Marston Book Services is the latest company to become e4books accredited, bringing the total number of accredited companies for 2009 up to 91. Almost all of the significant UK distributors have now been successful in gaining the award, which sets challenging targets for levels of automation in supply chain e-commerce, and has become a benchmark for the industry.
I’d like to offer Marston my congratulations on a long overdue step in the right direction. Instead, however, I find myself looking at my own e4books Accreditation Certificate and wondering what, exactly, it’s worth: has the time come to feed it to the shredder?
For those who are unfamiliar with the e4books project, it’s a scheme that was set up by BIC just over 5 years ago (remember eDay?) “with the aim of increasing the use of e-commerce transactions with trading partners in the book industry supply chain.” Rough translation: encouraging people to do more business electronically instead of shuffling sheets of paper.
The aim of e4books accreditation, as I understood it, was to give recognition to those companies which were making significant progress in their implementation of ecommerce and paperless procedures, thus giving companies such as Marston, which have yet to implement online invoice processing for booksellers, an impetus to bring their systems up to speed.
The UK book trade industry standard online payment system is batch.co.uk, a Booksellers Association initiative. It’s an incredibly simple system to use that eliminates the need for booksellers to issue dozens of cheques to dozens of different suppliers, and saves those suppliers in turn having to deal with hundreds of separate cheques, not only reducing admin work but also — and much more importantly in the long term — reducing our industry’s impact upon the environment by reducing paper consumption and use of postal services.
Back in 2006 the LST Bookshop became one of the first two independent booksellers to gain e4books accreditation (an honour I shared with Yorkshire Books). I had something of a fight on my hands at the time because several of my major suppliers, including Marston Book Services, simply did not — and despite repeated requests from myself and many others still do not — allow me to pay my invoices via batch.co.uk.
I applaud Marston’s use of PubEasy for online order processing; I do not dispute Marston’s excellence when it comes to prompt despatch and accurate fulfilment: on these aspects of the business, I have nothing but praise.
But on an ecommerce front this is only one side of the story: granting Marston Book Services e4books accredited status without requiring them to comply with the other side of the story — disregarding an essential part of the standards specified under BIC’s own guidelines for suppliers, “the sending of a high volume of electronic invoices and credit notes to a significant number of trading partners” — undermines those standards and makes a mockery of the entire e4books scheme.