Books. Nearly 150,000 are published every year in the UK alone, many more are imported and they address a wide range of markets and sectors – children’s, academic, leisure, literature, lifestyle across diverse formats: hardback, paperback, e-book, audiobook. Books are still big business in our digital age but how to sell to your market if you are a bookseller, whether a big player or inhabiting a niche corner?
Traditionally we think of the bookshop, those fascinating emporia we love to browse and get lost in but more than ever the website is the place where sales are made. The advantages are obvious: overcoming geographical restrictions, no physical space required for the display of thousands of titles, the ability to change your window display remotely, fewer costly overheads and a worldwide audience. However, presenting stock, making books discoverable online and providing a secure means of purchase is a highly specialised job, one that a bookseller may find quite alien.
When Amazon first appeared in our web browsers, there were many sceptics. The traditional press reported on the huge losses the company was incurring, believing, maybe even wishing, it was not possible to survive. Experts cited customer caution when buying over the internet, internet speeds when browsing huge sites, customer connectivity problems in remote areas, supply chain issues, the customers’ love of the bookshop, the smell of paper and print. And according to the naysayers, the e-book was destined for the same fate, customer rejection of all things virtual. The conviction was so strong many companies didn’t bother to initiate a digital strategy. Then the truth of the situation hit publishers.
There was a palpable sense of panic among booksellers and publishers. The book trade had been caught on the hop; meetings were called, seminars organised, strategies formed. It is now a frequently stated observation that the fastest growing area in the annual London Book Fair is the digital area – self-publishing, print on demand, internet sales, e-books, e-book readers, digital rights, online marketing of online-only titles. The fact such growth still astonishes anyone in relation to digital publishing and online sales is what is most remarkable. What did we expect in an era when almost every aspect of our lives is connected, virtual, digital?
Less than two decades into the brave new virtual world of the 21st century and Amazon rules OK. Everyone wants to be part of a world that allows your bookshop front to be seen from Alaska to Oz, California to Cambridge.
For the web builder such as BDSDigital, the challenge of the online bookstore is a fascinating one, requiring diverse talents and technologies to be brought together into one simple manageable package. It involves retaining certain values that have been core to bookshops since their inception: a character, a sense of wonder, a love of learning, a respect for ideas, a passion for adventure.
As a child I remember entering my local bookshop – long since closed – feeling like an explorer. There were shelves I loved and knew and I noticed instantly if they had been restocked. There were other areas that surprised me, others I used to show to friends with a sense of pride as if they were my very own books, each book containing a rare and unique world. It is that sense of wonder, pride and excitement that an online bookstore has to invoke. It cannot be just a search engine and a list of results; it has to tempt and attract, fascinate, it has to, well, recreate the smell of new paper and ink in the imagination of the surfer.
BDSDigital has created a wide variety of online bookstores: big stores known nationally that have to turn over stock rapidly and promote big titles such as the Irish book chain Eason; academic bookstores linked with social research such as The Policy Press; bookstores for international agencies that form world opinion such the OECD; smaller niche shops with a reputation for excellence such as Daunt Books or the award-winning Yale University Press, and mainstream academic publishers working in both print and e-book such as Palgrave Macmillan. Each has to function superbly, handling huge amounts of data with almost instant results, each has to be unique, reflecting the values and identity of the company it represents, and each needs to carry the sense of wonder, the smell of new paper and freshly printed ink.
The details are considerable. Stock management and presentation are a given. Not so obvious are handling a multitude of currencies (the online bookstore is a worldwide book store for many publishers), including metrics with regard to shipping and postal rates, incorporating special offers, presenting original and en