Why most stamp collecting / inventory software solutions suck?

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This week I’ll be focusing on topic of utilizing PC (or smart phone, or tablet) when working with my worldwide stamp collection

Update: You might also want to check out Keeping track of stamp collection article for my free stamp inventory tool.

I don’t want to manually enter all basic information

Like most “geeks”, I’m somewhat lazy by nature. I dislike the idea of manually typing details of each stamp to inventory program. I want my inventory program to provide a (preferably visual) list of (all) issued stamps with basic set of details – leaving me only with the task of selecting what I have or don’t have and providing additional details. It would be also great if I could use any of the major catalogue systems for numbering. Sounds like a GREAT product, but…

In reality, nearly all stamp inventory programs require (huge amounts of) manual data entry for each item. In case of small or single country collections this is not such an obstacle, but for example I would be completely screwed. Try entering details of over 50k+ worldwide stamps manually. If a single item would take 3-4 minutes of time, I’d be done in a 1-2 years or so if I worked with inventory from 9am – 5pm every and each day.

The reason for missing “magic feature” is – believe it or not – stamp catalog publishers. They are very protective with their content: catalogue number systems are protected, item descriptions / background details are also under very strict copyright, heck – even  prices/values in catalogues are heavily guarded. For example providing public cross-comparison lists between numbering systems of different catalogues is a big NO-NO.

I do understand the reasons for this behavior (as I work with content/publishing industry): content is valuable and it should be protected from illegal use. But IMHO the current way is doing more harm than good for the future of stamp collecting.

Notice how I bolded the “nearly all” part few paragraphs above? I think Amos Advantage (publisher of Scott catalogues) is currently the only major publisher,  that has “licensed” parts of their data for external software providers as well as providing their own tools. Other catalogue publishers are working solely with their own digital catalogue product lines to compete on this area. Stanley Gibbons MyCollection is a very attractive product, but somewhat limited by details and features. Michel’s online catalogue (basic and premium version available, read the review in tomorrow’s blog post) comes sadly far behind – it’s even worse than the Michel Software CD’s  that ship with printed Michel catalogues.  I believe that also Yvert & Tellier currently has digital product line too, but I haven’t seen it.


Michel online stamp catalogue

Michel online stamp catalog

This has created an interesting situation that could shatter the balance of catalogue publishers. Scott has always been strong in US and Canada, Michel is popular in Europe, Stanley Gibbons is de facto in Great Britain and Commonwealth countries. And it’s been like this for 50-100 years… But… Scott seems to be currently the only one actively responding to needs of modern day collectors. So who knows – maybe European collectors will abandon SG/Michel/YT, and shift to Scott…

I want it to be nice and simple

Ever seen a stamp inventory program? Most of the inventory programs are ugly as hell, and a true usability nightmare. Tens of checkboxes, input fields, multiple buttons, scrolling in all directions… ugh… they make you really “sad” if you are experienced with professional looking software.

A screenshot of EZStamps - easy to use? Not so suprisingly, the software has 100+ page manual to operate.

A screenshot of EZStamps - easy to use? Not so suprisingly, the software has 100+ page manual to operate.

I would prefer the software to look great, be simple and highly customizable. So far all stamp specific inventory programs I’ve seen lack these simple requirements more or less.

If all existing stamp inventory suck, then what do you use?

It’s not hard to guess… I don’t use an inventory program. I have tried most programs available – some of them more than once (with releases of new versions/updates). But… I find them simply waste of time and money.

I use Microsoft Excel to maintain a simple personal inventory, that holds country specific general details: how many stamps do I have, how many stamps are issued in that country, what stockbook are the stamps in etc.  I’ve also listed some of the better items in finer detail using Excel.To be honest, Excel is IMO much more flexible, easier-to-use and powerful than any of the available stamp inventory programs.

But that’s just my 2 cents – for some the existing inventory solutions might be an excellent solution worth a try.  The good part is that like with any software, you can usually try the 15-30 day demo/trial editions available on the manufacturers website free of charge.

PS. If anyone wants to have a copy of my “inventory file”-template (= structure, but no stamp data), feel free to leave a comment. I’ll be more than happy to share it.

Due to large number of requests for the template I’m making a change to above as of May 18th 2013.

I’m still giving away my template for free to anyone who wants it. But in order to get it, You’ll need to send me a postcard (or letter) with your email address. Once I receive your postcard, I’ll email the template & simple instructions to email address found on the postcard. Here’s the address you can use to ask for copy of template:

SCBT / Keijo Kortelainen
Raiviontie 1
FI-44280 Sumiainen
FINLAND

As for why the change? Well, anyone can do the maths. To date I’ve emailed the template to well over 1,500 recipients. Even if forwarding email takes just one or two minutes, making it over 1,500 times sums up to considerable number of hours. Sending a (compulsory) thank You post card or letter (preferably with nice stamps) is IMHO the least people can do in return.

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