Friday, 14 August 2009

Compare and contrast: Book Depository

When taking a brand across the Atlantic, how much gets lost in the translation? For instance, is it enough for a UK merchant to simply change all the “colours” to “colors” and the pounds to dollars when expanding into the US, or are changes in merchandise mix, creative, and offers necessary as well?

I’ll be up front: I don’t know. But in hopes of finding out, I figured I’d periodically take a look at the US and UK versions of etailers that sell to both markets. First brand of call: The Book Depository, a bookseller based in the UK that launched a US website last month.

The home pages of both sites have nearly identical layouts (the UK version is above; the Stateside version is below). Both promote the free worldwide delivery prominently up top; both include links to categories such as “Coming soon”, “Bestsellers”, and “Publisher of the week” along the top nav bar; both run a list of book categories down the left-hand column. Fun fact: Both and have a category for “religion”, but the US also breaks out "Christianity” as a separate category. Make of that what you will.

Where the home pages differ is in the choice of titles and subjects to spotlight. Both home pages feature links on the top left to two featured topics (though Book Depository doesn’t spell that out, which would have been nice). On the UK site, the topics are “Man on the moon” and “Booker Prize longlist”. The Booker Prize means nothing to Americans, so the US-featured topics are “Iran” and “Men on the moon” (and while I’d love to know why the Yanks prefer “men” to “man”, I suspect there’s no significance at all). The “Editor’s top picks” also vary between the sites. And while the US home page includes a link to UK best-sellers, the UK site doesn’t reciprocate with a list of top US sellers. My theory comes down to a US sense of cultural inferiority and a British sense of intellectual superiority, but as I don’t want to start an international incident, I’ll refrain from continuing down that path.

Both sites accept a full array of payment options, including some (such as Solo and Visa Electron) that I don’t recall being used in the States. The UK home page has a link near the bottom labelled “Affiliates”; the US version doesn’t.

Both sites have blogs, but they feature different posts, about different books, which is as it should be.

I decided to search for the same book on both sites, a book that I know is available in both countries. If you follow us on Twitter (, you may know that I’m a bit obsessed with Lowboy, by John Wray, a Brooklyn-based author, so I searched for that. The UK results page, under the caption “Top results: People who searched for the same keywords bought these books”, came up with seven matches: four versions of Lowboy (including large print), two other books by John Wray, and a book by Wells Tower. The US results page delivered just the paperback version of Lowboy, which sadly was out of stock. Both results pages, by the way, allowed you to filter the results by price range, availability, and format, as well as to sort the listings by popularity, price range, and publication date—nice!

But wait! Below these top results were “Main search results”. On the UK site these were six versions of Lowboy, including spoken word. Ditto on the US site, including several print versions that were indeed available. But because these main results were below the fold, they could easily be missed—and a sale lost.

The product description of the book was the same on both sites; ditto the lack of customer reviews (which I promise to rectify). When I searched for another, more popular book (Twilight), I found the same description but different reader reviews—or rather, reader reviews on the UK site but not on the US version.

Both sites gave the option of paying in sterling, US dollars, or euros. Both also gave the option of registering or checking out without registration. The price was the same on both sites.

All in all, the Book Depository sites seem to be built on the same platform, using the same navigation, with the same features. This works, because the basic site is damn good: easy to navigate (aside from the “top results”/“main results” problem), great filtering and sorting options, easy to shop from, free shipping. At the same time, Book Depository recognises the basic cultural and merchandising differences between the audiences and caters to each group accordingly. With books it’s probably easier to do this, given that publishing has always been a fairly stats-oriented industry with its best-sellers lists and the like.

It’ll be interesting to see if the US site does develop a distinctive copy tone from the British version. And I’ll also be interested to see if, after I submit my rave review of Lowboy to the UK site, whether it will appear on the Stateside version as well.--SC

1 comment:

  1. The UK site seems to have crashed at the moment - very very slow running speed and almost bare pages stripped to the minimum.

    What caused the problem?

    A minor regret is that The Book Depository doesn't have an automatic gift sale tick box option, to restrict price info being sent with books.