Looking Up Alternative Copies of a Book on Amazon, via ThingISBN

As Amazon improves access to the long tail of books through Amazon’s marketplace sellers and maybe even their ownership of Abebooks, it’s increasingly easy to find multiple editions of the same book. So when I followed a link to a book that Mike Ellis recommended last week (to The Victorian Internet in fact) and found that none of the editions of the book were in stock, as new, on Amazon, I had the tangential thought that it’d be quite handy to have a service that would take an ISBN and then look up the prices for all the various editions of that book on Amazon.

Given an ISBN for a book, there are at least a couple of ways of finding the ISBNs for other editions of the book – the Worldcat xISBN service, and ThingISBN from LibraryThing (now part owned by Amazon through Amazon’s ownership of Abebooks; for who else Amazon owns, see Amazon “Edge Services” – Digital Manufacturing).

So here’s a couple of Yahoo pipes for looking up the alternative editions of a book on the Amazon website, after discovering those editions from ThingISBN.

First of all a pipe that takes an ISBN and looks up alternative editions using ThingISBN:

What this pipe does is construct a URL that calls for the list of alternative ISBNs for a given ISBN. That is, it constructs a URL of the form http://www.librarything.com/api/thingISBN/ISBNHERE, which returns an XML file containing the alternative ISBNs (example), grabs the XML file back using the Fetch Data block, renames the internal representation of the grabbed XML so that the pipe will generate a valid RSS feed, and output the result.

So now we have an RSS feed that contains a list of alternative ISBNs, via ThingISBN, for a given ISBN.

Now to find out how much these books cost on Amazon. For that, we shall find it convenient to construct a pipe that will look up the details of a book on Amazon using the Amazon Associates web service, given an ISBN. (For a brief intro to Amazon Associates web services, see Calling Amazon Associates/Ecommerce Web Services from a Google Spreadsheet.)

Here’s a pipe to do that:

(If you use the AWSzone scratchpad to construct a URL that calls the Amazon web service with a look up for book by ISBN, you can just paste it into the “Base” entry form in the Pipe’s URL Builder block and hit return, and it will explode the arguments into the appropriate slots for you.)

So now we have a pipe that will look up the details of a book on Amazon given its ISBN.

We can now put the ThingISBN pipe and the Amazon ISBN lookup pipe together, to create a compound pipe that will lookup details for all the alternative versions of a particular book, given that particular book’s ISBN:

Okay – so now we have a pipe that takes an ISBN, looks up the alternative ISBNs using ThingISBN, then grabs details for each of those alternatives from Amazon…

Now what? Well, if you use this pipe in your own mashup, you may find that if you construct a URL that calls a pipe with a given ISBN, if you don’t handle the ISBN properly in your own code, you can pass a badly formed ISBN to the pipe. The most common example of this is dropping a leading 0 on the ISBN – so e.g. you pass 441172717 rather than 0441172717.

Now it just so happens that LibraryThing offers another webservice that can correct this sort of error – ISBN check API – and it’s easy enough to create a pipe to call it:

Good – so now we can defensively programme the front end of our pipe to handle badly formed ISBNs by sticking this pipe at the front of the compound pipe that calls ThingISBN and then loops through Amazon calls.

But there’s something we can do at the other end of the pipe too, and that is make use of a ‘slideshow’ feature that Yahoo pipes offers as an interface to the pipe. If the elements of a feed contain image items that are packaged in an appropriate way, the Yahoo pipes interface will automatically create a slidesho of those images.

What this means is that if we package URLs that point to the book cover image of each alternative version of a book, we can get a slideshow of the bookcovers of all the alternative editions of that book.

Here’s just such a pipe:

And here’s the example output:

If you click on the “Get as Badge” option, you can then embed this slideshow on your own website or start page:

For example, here I’ve added the slideshow to my iGoogle page:

Now to my mind, that’s quite a fun (and practical) way of introducing quite a few ideas about webservice orchestration that can be unpacked at a later date. But of course, it’s not very academic, so it’s unlikely to appear in a course near you anytime soon… ;-) But I’d argue that it does stand up as a demo that could be given to show people how much fun this stuff can be to play with, before we inflict SOAP and WS-* on them…

Author: Tony Hirst

I'm a Senior Lecturer at The Open University, with an interest in #opendata policy and practice, as well as general web tinkering...

5 thoughts on “Looking Up Alternative Copies of a Book on Amazon, via ThingISBN”

  1. I have some Journalism students who are putting together a book review (WordPress) site for one of their courses. I think they’ll like this badge. As always, thanks!

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