Can I get book descriptions and bibliographic data electronically from a variety of publishers, for free?
September 3, 2004 4:09 PM   Subscribe

Is it possible to get book descriptions electronically from a variety of publishers...for free? [you bet there's more inside]

I have an idea for a project, but it would require having book descriptions and bibliographic data from a range of publishers for a large number of books. Are publishers generally willing to provide descriptions of their books, like the kind that appear on the back, in electronic form? seems to primarily rely on 3rd party review databases, like Booklist and Publishers Weekly, both are way out of my price range for a non-commercial project. The Library of Congress charges a boatload of cash for their database and the Lexis/Nexis tools are equally cost-prohibitive.

Any tips?
posted by cmonkey to Media & Arts (6 answers total)
Do you mean via a database or in some form that's easily machine-readable, or just available period? Because lots of publishers have their catalogs online. Here's Knopf, for example, and the Farrar, Straus search form (which will force you to select hardcover and trade paperback since it won't show you anything if you leave everything blank). Then you'd have to manually select each book, and get the data you want...

So they are willing to provide that information, but getting it automatically might require a lot of screen scraping.
posted by kenko at 4:39 PM on September 3, 2004

Response by poster: Sorry, I meant in MARC format or something equally as plain-text.
posted by cmonkey at 5:22 PM on September 3, 2004

If you are looking for it on the cheap, then I doubt you will have much luck. It has been a while since I have worked in technical services, but at that time publisher never produced machine-readable records that were of any use to us.

That said, Midwest Library Services (and other book jobbers) produce what we call preview cards. These are cards with a description of the book and basic cataloguing information (LCCN, ISBN etc). We receive these in hard copy but they might also produce an electronic version of them.
posted by Razzle Bathbone at 5:39 PM on September 3, 2004

I'm not sure exactly what you want. Most publishers will have their ad copy or catalog copy in their online catalogs or rights guides. There were a few services in the late 90s that tried to gather all of this information into some kind of browsing site, but Amazon worked better and sold books to boot. There's one company I know of that is attempting to gather all of this info from publisher to store electronically for the NYT book review, Barnes and Noble, Google and more. Their called Dial-A-Book, but you'll have to research what they have available. Most publishers use Amazon and Books In Print for this kind of info, but Books in Print is costly and Amazon doesn't seem to be what you're looking for. Most publishers I know still rely on the old printed catalog to sell from. The only other thing I can think of is to search for subsidiary rights guides on the publishers' sites. These would have some of the info you need and are generally easier to obtain electronically.
posted by rodz at 5:52 PM on September 3, 2004

Response by poster: I'm not sure exactly what you want.

I'm looking for this kind of information, but presented in a way that wouldn't require me to run wget on the LOC's server every week.
posted by cmonkey at 7:06 PM on September 3, 2004

I used to work for a medical publisher, and part of my job was giving out exactly this kind of information to several companies, ranging from Amazon (who had the clout to get highy specialized data exactly the way they wanted it) to some fly-by-night dot.coms (who got a crappy Excel spreadsheet that I put together in ten minutes every month). I guess my point is that smaller and specialty publishers might be willing to give you data. If they already have an online catalogue, all the better. The data's there, just get them to send it to you in raw form.
posted by gokart4xmas at 8:31 PM on September 3, 2004

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