Why set up an online store... virtually by Cally Phillips

My post of 29th May 2014 looked at the ‘how’ of setting up an online store – but you were possibly left wondering why one would even attempt such a thing. After all, everyone buys from Amazon don’t they? And getting ebooks onto your Kindle (because we all use Kindles right?) is as easy as one click. No brainer. Why on earth would anyone want to set up an online store. Competing with Amazon? No way.

Is it worth it?
You’ve got to decide if it’s worth the outlay of a couple of hundred pounds to test it for a year. That’s a personal decision. Hopefully my comments will help you make a more informed choice of how, when and whether to take this step.

What do you have to offer?
If you are selling one ebook this won’t be worth it, but if you have lots of ebooks or some collaborative/collective framework it is something you might want to think about it.  And remember just because you’re paying premium for the digital download option, you can still sell ‘real’ products through the site too. I set up the store because I’ve got more than 30 ebooks (when I get my act together it’ll be 50+) ready for sale – and I’m planning to offer second hand books and more ‘real’ products over time.  Merchandising anyone? Mousemat, mug? Think outside the virtual box – what do you have to sell?

All about file types
Not everyone is totally welded to Amazon. Many people also have tablets, smartphones (though why you would want to read a book on a smartphone escapes me) and even trusty pcs.  In my store I can offer people something extra.

You can give buyers the option of type of file at point of purchase, but I just put up all versions, offering people the opportunity (which Amazon don’t) of being able to download the same ebook in a number of formats so that they can read it on a number of devices. No one will pay extra to have ebooks in a number of formats. If they’re that keen they’ll know how to ‘rip’ them and ‘convert’ them using the likes of Calibre (with a plug in) like you used to create the files in the first place.  So you are saving them the time and effort.

Follow the money
The point of this is not to compete head on with Amazon, it’s a) to offer choice of format, b) to reach those who are NOT Amazon-friendly and c) to garner more of the ‘royalty’ yourself.

You have to do the math.  For me, books in my store are predominantly public domain which means that Amazon take 65% of list price. That means that even taking into account the paypal transaction fee (small) I can make more money by selling direct from my store. Nearly twice as much. If you’re on a 70% Royalty from Amazon it may not work out as prettily for you.   And I can offer ‘bundle’ ebooks and a variety of ‘discounted’ options which make buying the product from me more appealing.

Nothing succeeds like success?
So about this time you’d like me to tell you how well (or badly) my online store is doing. It’s slow, that’s the truth. I’ve tried a number of things, all of which teach lessons. The price objection for example. It’s bogus. I offered books at a fraction of the Amazon cost for a time and people still seemed more comfortable buying the one-click Amazon download – even though they were paying more and getting less. So I won’t let ‘price’ be a barrier in my marketing strategies in the future.  

In my opinion people buy from Amazon because they know it’s there, they trust it, they think it’s more secure and (if I may say so) there’s a bit of a sheep mentality about people. Or maybe the idea that clicking a couple of times more and maybe having to ‘sideload’ it onto a Kindle is just too much technology for people who would rather spend £1 extra for the one-click experience.  Also, maybe, people don’t think about where their money is going.  For me, niche selling is about showing people there are choices and offering the opportunity to put your money where your mouth is over issues such as big business tax avoidance.  

You can buy one of my books, pay £3.99 to Amazon and I get about £1 or you can pay £3.99 to my store and I get about £2.50.  Or if I discount to £1.99 you get it cheaper and I still get what I’d get from Amazon (which is what I try to do as much as possible) My business ‘model’ such as it is, is set at making £1 per unit.  So I need to sell 300 odd ebooks a year off my site to break even.  That won’t happen in the first year if the first month figures are replicated, but it’s not all about the money or the conventional notion of success for me. It’s about people having the choice to read things they might otherwise not get to read.  After all, if you’ve been paying attention you’ll note that my ‘products’ are asking you to pay for ebooks you can get for FREE (sometimes) from Amazon or Project Guthenberg.  Although my argument is that having been copyedited and edited my editions are actually not just a higher quality, but a different ‘product’ altogether.  This idea has met with some resistance and then, lo and behold The Guardian noted that free scanned books (the ones I’ve converted/edited) are unreadable,  ARTICLE HERE  with words like arse being substituted for arms etc.  I did tell you so… but then no one listens when I talk, when The Guardian tell them… (I rest my case). My point is, I’m looking to the future, not trying to make a killing in the short term.

Looking to the future
Setting up an online ebook store is looking to the future. If you do some research (and if you’re going to spit out a couple of hundred quid to set up a store you really should!) you’ll see that online book shops are becoming all the rage.  Virtual ebook stores can’t be far behind - where ebook versions of ‘real’ books are available it’s surely ‘cream’ to the store.  You do need the ‘tech’ to support the file transfers, and this might be expensive/daunting to big companies, but for niche market (as you will inevitably be) it’s just that monthly cost.

Here’s a few examples of online book/ebook stores.
https://www.thegreatbritishbookshop.co.uk/ebooks This is a printer (who I’ve used for years for short run and print on demand, now branching out into selling books/ebooks direct from their own store).
http://www.guardianbookshop.co.uk/ Can’t see that they do ebooks yet, but it can only be a matter of time.
http://soka-ebook-store.com/ A niche market site. It may not be your thing but you may see that ‘your’ thing could be something like this!
https://www.blinkboxbooks.com/ The newest kid on the block who is potentially a big gamechanger/threat to Amazon.

Why bother?
If you have one to ten ebooks probably not worth it. If you have one to ten ebooks and physical books, and a desire to ‘build’ a brand or a ‘community’ of any kind it might be.  If you have other things to sell and want to keep all your trading activity under one virtual roof, it could be very handy. If you can sell enough ‘other’ stuff (like second hand books or memorabilia or whatever links to your ebook ‘persona’) to cover the cost for the ebook commerce monthly fees it’s definitely worth looking at.
If you are not completely wedded to the idea that Amazon will continue to dominate the market it’s worth considering.

If you are looking at setting up  a micro/small/indie publisher with a range of titles from a number of authors and want to feature ebooks in that mix, I’d say it’s worth the gamble. A store gives you something to promote yourself with over and above just your writing/publishing.

Create two, three, many Vietnam’s… that is the watchword.
Che Guevara, said this in his ‘Message to the Tricontinental’ in April 1967. The full speech is here  http://www.marxists.org/archive/guevara/1967/04/16.htm
It’s worth reading that by the way, but of course slightly off topic! I have re-appropriated it for my own purposes to the ebook world and I say:
‘create two, three, many Amazon’s’ is what we might think of ourselves as doing (if we see ourselves as part of a ‘digital’ revolution, not just as confused consumers of same). I’m not ‘anti’ Amazon. I gave up being ‘anti’ things some years ago. ‘Anti’ is too aggressive and too exhausting a stance. I’m just ‘non’ a lot of things.  I look to the alternative. And my message is that it’s not necessary to ‘take on’ Amazon – we are unlikely to ever be more than small minnow/niche markets- BUT it maybe it is  time to take the means of production fully into our own hands and actually sell our work for ourselves, direct to the customer. If it’s something you care about. If not, go with the flow of the mighty river and be happy with your life.

I have a dream… (robbed from either Shelley or MLK) 
That once customers get used to being able to download other than from Amazon (and yes, you can sell Kindle format files which can be easily uploaded to Kindle devices) there may be a tideswell.   To date Kobo have been a pretty useless challenger. iBooks is for people who love Apple the way that others love Amazon,  but Blinkbox are offering the first real challenge. The Tesco model I suggest understands that readers fundamentally don’t care what ‘format’ their ebook is in. They just want to be able to download it easily, cheaply and safely.

It is possible to provide this service with an ecommerce site now. If you subscribe to the ‘if you build it they will come’ philosophy in any respect it’s worth thinking about. If you believe ‘you’ve got to be in it to win it,’ ditto.  Or if (like me) you have a fundamental economic aversion to market capitalism and want to look at other ways to disseminate information, cutting out the middle man, then it’s something to think about REALLY seriously.

I rest my case. Time to go shopping?

My virtual bookstore (which is not as big as Amazon, more a boutique experience but offering good value for money and the kind of books its hard to find at a decent quality elsewhere – and if you like these kind of books – is RIGHT HERE.  I hope to see you in-store sometime soon.  


Wot, no comments? This is something I would consider doing in the future (but the things to do are stacking up a bit) - when I have more eBooks and a few paper books out there. I've thought of doing it for my husband's artwork (where eBay is an expensive and not very good alternative) and I've thought of doing it for the antique textiles I sell on eBay as well. It's a niche market, but that may make an online store a good additional option. So this is a useful addition to my 'to be thought about' file - for which many thanks!
Susan Price said…
If you do go ahead and sell your husband's artwork, Catherine, let us know how it goes. I keep urging my partner and brothers to do something similar with their work - but they seem to favour approaching tiny galleries and shops. I think, if they ever do, they'll simply be told to apply to Head Office - and will never hear anything when they do.
That's been Alan's experience, Susan. In fact he's been occasionally treated with the kind of rudeness that makes Big Publishing seem like a model of kindness and courtesy! I wouldn't believe it if I hadn't seen it myself! Shows and craft fairs are better, if you have the energy. And he has work in one or two nice places, but this is not a good area for selling art of any kind!
Dennis Hamley said…
Yes, this really is something to be 'thought about'and I've already sent both blogs round to the others involved in the beginning-to-be finalised Blank Page Press. I see many difficulties but the concept itself seems perfect for the small independent publisher. However, Cally, I must confess that I ignorantly bought my Crockett p/bs straight from Amazon. Sorry about that. They promised them on Wednesday. It's Friday morning now and still no sign. I'm sure the Ayton bookstore would have been better than this.

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