This year, we are celebrating Edelweiss's twentieth anniversary! Founded in 2002, Edelweiss has transformed from one-man operation to a company of nearly forty employees supporting the book community.
Our CEO John Rubin and President Annie Rubin discuss Edelweiss's journey over the past two decades, how the company got its start, and what lies ahead.
Independent But No Longer Alone
In 2002, John Rubin had the idea to build a software service to support indie booksellers. His mother owned a bookstore, and John saw firsthand some of the difficulties she faced.
He envisioned software that would help booksellers analyze their stock and identify which categories were selling well, so they could make informed decisions about which titles to carry. This software would translate for booksellers the concepts John employed consulting for companies like FedEx but, being web-based, would make them more widely accessible.
“This was the only way I could think of that I could help the indies,” says John. “I couldn’t visit and consult with every store individually or with the frequency that they needed.”
The one catch? John didn’t know anything about software development.
“I bought a couple books. But, once I got into it, it was a lot of googling questions and discovering instructions online,” John says.
John also designed his envisioned platform to serve as a collaborative analysis tool for the indies. A bookseller on the platform would be able to access aggregated lists of bestselling titles as well as most anticipated books drawn from other retailers using the service.
“The original tagline was ‘You’re independent but no longer alone,’” recalls Annie Rubin, President of Edelweiss. “The idea was that you as a bookseller could be independent but still see what books are working in other stores—it enabled booksellers to achieve that scale without being part of a chain.”
Eventually, John gained momentum and the tool came together.
“I remember the first time I built the database over here and built the site over there, and I got information from the database to show up on the site. It felt amazing, and I realized that I could really do this.”
From Ca-Tagalong to Catalog Services
This year marks two decades of Edelweiss, which has grown to encompass not just inventory management for booksellers (now Edelweiss+ Analytics) but also key tools for publishers. As of 2022, Edelweiss hosts the catalogs for all major US publishers and many UK-based presses.
The idea for Edelweiss’s catalog services came to John following a 2007 meeting with Waterstones. While Analytics launched in the US, UK booksellers who learned about the site were also keen to use it. This meeting was intended to explore Waterstones’ adoption of Analytics, but the retailer inquired about using the product to support title buying.
At the same time, the U.S. publisher HarperCollins was interested in using the platform as a catalog supplement with ordering capabilities.
“Publishers in general were also questioning why they were printing all these paper catalogs—why not create an e-catalog the same way they were doing e-books?” John remembers. “All these elements coalesced and what grew from it was our catalog services.”
“Or, as I was calling it at first, Ca-Tagalong, like a catalog tagalong, which luckily didn’t stick.”
The first pilot of the online catalog service was conducted in 2008, with eight U.S. publishers signing on to test out the service. It launched as Edelweiss, invoking the flower that thrives above the treeline in mountain landscapes.
“I also liked the name Edelweiss for its connotations from the song in the Sound of Music,” says John.
“‘Every morning you greet me…’ felt apt for people working in Edelweiss every day.”
Looking to the Future
Building on the success of both Analytics and Catalog Services, today Edelweiss is a B2B hub serving a wide range of book lovers and industry professionals. It now provides analytics for publishers and librarians, review-copy hosting, targeted email marketing tools for booksellers, advertising opportunities, and more.
The company has also seen great growth internationally. Several years ago, relationships were established with Bertline and Gardlink, which allowed UK booksellers to contribute their point-of-sale information to Edelweiss+ Analytics. But, it wasn’t until Ruth Bradstreet, a long-time ‘Treeliner’ who had been deeply involved in the U.S. expansion, returned to her native Scotland in 2019 that the company could invest more in the UK.
“I met John in 2006 through my position at Ingram Book Company and was excited about what he was doing for booksellers,” says Ruth. “I joined the team in 2007, and I've stayed through thick and thin because I absolutely love the work, my wonderful colleagues and the company mission and ethos.”
Now, in 2022, there are now over 300 shops that send their point-of-sale data to Edelweiss and have access to the Analytics tools as well as over 70 UK-based publishers that subscribe to Catalog Services.
“Being part of the growth and success of the company has been the best ride of my life,” says Ruth, who is joined in this work by Dan Fridd, a former Bertrams employee and co-owner of Norwich-based bookshop Bookbugs and Dragon Tales.
During recent years, the company has also strengthened its commitment to enact positive social change. In January 2019, Annie, who has a background in organizational management as the former National Training Director of the U.S.-based Caribou Coffee Company, officially joined Edelweiss. First as the Vice President of Culture and Values and then as President, she has worked since to help the Edelweiss pursue its goals to dismantle systemic racism and bias—both in the company itself and in the tech and publishing industries.
“At Edelweiss, we really do believe in the power of books to engage and transform the world. What makes me excited for the company’s future is this opportunity to contribute to a more literary, thoughtful, and inclusive world,” says Annie.
In 2020, Annie and the Edelweiss team started Ascend, a commitment to promoting equity and inclusion in the publishing and tech industries through investing, providing access, and amplifying marginalized voices.
“From the very start, our mission was fundamentally focused on problem-solving,” says John. “And, two decades later, this commitment still cuts across all the work we do—from helping booksellers become more efficient in their day-to-day to tackling the larger, systemic inequities of the industries we serve.”