May 12, 2012

The app is here! But is it worth it?

Since my last update to this blog, the Scott Catalogue app for iPad/iPhone has been released.  Let the celebrations begin!  But wait, what’s all this about searching and buying content?

If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you know I’ve been waiting for this app or something like it for some time.  My paper set of the catalogue is quite heavy, and I don’t have all of the volumes from any single year.  Heck, I’m still working from the 2002 edition for the last two volumes!  So when the opportunity arose to have all the data on my iPad and have it automatically updated with information as Scott released it, I was very pleased.  I eagerly looked forward to being able to search by date and/or subject rather than page through looking for an image that was similar to the stamp that I was trying to identify.

When the app finally hit iTunes, I grabbed it.  The app itself is free, but as I expected, the content is not.  The price for the content isn’t quite as much as for a new paper edition, but it’s pretty close.  Volume 1 is now available for download through in-app purchase.  But at $60 for the full volume, I’m not saving very much.  I can buy the paper volume 1 brand new directly from Amos Advantage for $70 (which includes a discount as a Linn’s Stamp News subscriber).  I can split my download purchase to get only half of the volume for $30 as either Part A (U.S., U.N. and countries Abu Dhabi through Australia) or Part B (countries Austria through Bushire), but this strategy doesn’t help me save money, just to spread out the purchases.

The portions of Volume 1 that are available for free are the introduction, index and identifier, common design type list, U.S. subject index and a section called “Back of the Book.”  That last part is a little deceiving because my definition of back of the book is the part of the listings that include the semipostal, air mail, special delivery, postage due, revenue and other special postal use stamps.  As far as the app is concerned, back of the book refers to the list of additions, deletions and changes, a currency conversion list and the illustrated identifier, quite literally, it is the last several pages of the printed volume.  The identifier is probably the most valuable part of this section, but even there, when I zoom in on some of the illustrations, the non-English characters are still quite fuzzy.

I had read a review a month or two ago that said searching based on a stamp’s subject or other keywords wasn’t included and the only way to search was by Scott number.  The app page notes one ray of hope on this front in that an update to version 1.1 includes “Full Text Search for downloaded content.”  Unfortunately, without first purchasing the content, I can’t do a search to find out which part of the catalogue contains the description that I’m looking for.

For me, the app is not quite “all that” yet.  First of all, it is basically a way to purchase the content of the printed volumes in electronic form.  That’s great, but the printed volumes are not set up in the way that I need them in order to make best use of them.  I use the catalogues to help me identify stamps as I add them to my collection.  I usually buy “cigar box” mixture lots about once a year, so for me it’s pretty rare that a stamp is already identified with a Scott number.  That means I have to page through the catalogue looking for an image of the stamp, and often have to find an image that is similar because what I need to identify is part of a set and almost always not the exact same picture that is shown in the catalogue.  Having the content in electronic form is supposed to make searching for text exceedingly easy, but I can’t quite test this because I can’t yet afford to buy the whole volume.  Yes, the previous reviews said that every stamp listed in the catalogue will have an associated picture, but I still can’t see them because it still requires a purchase.

Another disadvantage for me is that I don’t see any way to buy a “used copy” of any volume.  What I mean here is that in order to save money and be able to afford the printed volumes, I’ve been buying used copies at a couple auction sites online, sometimes getting a complete volume for as little as $10 plus shipping.  The publisher could make older editions available for download at lower prices, but I don’t yet foresee this any time soon.  And since the purchases are only made through the in-app store, there is no way to buy the content second-hand in the classic sense of a used book.  I haven’t found a way yet, other than an iTunes gift card, to put the in-app purchases on my wishlists for birthday or other holiday gifts.

Finally, one of the most important reasons to me to have all of this data electronically is so I can load a list of what I already own onto my iPad so I can take that information with me to stamp shows.  It would be so wonderful if I could simply mark off in the catalogue app that I already have a particular stamp rather than manually build a spreadsheet with that information.  I am able to mark off what I’ve got in my paper volumes by simply putting a mark on the page, but I can’t do that in any way at all in the app.  Yeah, for me this would transform my need more to a database than a catalogue, but the way I use them when I go to stamp shows, they really should be this tightly integrated.

So what does that mean?  I’ll probably stick to second-hand paper volumes because that’s much closer to my hobby budget, for now at least.  Now if only I could make them more easily searchable…

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