Many of us have heard horror stories about Amazon and other major retailers “killing the bookstore as we know it.” These stories are fiction.
These mega-brands have made a huge impact on all aspects of consumer behavior, not just books. It’s also true, however, that niche bookstores, brands, as well as resellers, have been able carve out a special slice.
They are the ones who have realized this market is vast and flexible. These book lovers will pay more if the store offers a unique customer experience or personality flair.
This article will explain how to sell books online. We’ll help you on your journey to making good books available to the masses, from opening your own bookstore to self-publishing.
How to start an internet bookselling business
1. Choose a business idea
There are many ways to start a book business. There are many ways to launch a business in the book space. One option is to open a traditional bookstore, which offers a wide range of genres and attracts broader readers. You can also focus your business on a specific genre, such as action-adventure or fantasy, and build a business around it. Here are some more ideas for book-selling businesses:
- Self-publish your book and sell it directly to customers.
- Offer a particular type of book (e.g. coloring books, textbooks or comics).
- You can sell used, out of print, rare, and vintage books online or in person.
- You can target a specific audience (e.g. women, LGBTQ+, or children).
- Create a subscription box or bundle that features books.
- Digital delivery allows you to sell audiobooks and ebooks online.
- You can start a book-related business (e.g. paper and book cleaners, book stands).
2. Learn about trade terms
It is important to be familiar with terms used in the book business as a novice bookseller. These are some of the most important terms to know:
International Standard Book Number (ISBN), a numerical code that identifies a book. This unique number is used by publishers, libraries, retailers, and all other businesses in the book supply chain for stock control and ordering. All books published after 2006 have a thirteen-digit ISBN. Books published before this date have a 10-digit ISBN.
First edition: A first printed and commercially available copy of a book.
Advance reading copy (ARC), a pre-published, nearly-complete copy of a book that is close to being published. To build buzz about a title, ARCs are distributed to book buyers, reviewers and influencers.
Backlist: A list of books from the publisher that were once in print but are no longer available.
Out of print (OP), A book title no longer being printed by the publisher.
Book wholesaler: This is a company that purchases large quantities of books from the publishers and then sells them to libraries, retailers, and other institutions. Wholesalers often receive volume discounts from publishers, and can sell books at a lower cost without affecting their margins.
Book distributor: This is a business that stores and sells books to libraries and retailers. Sometimes, wholesalers are also involved.
A trade bookseller is another name for a retail bookshop or bookseller. Trade booksellers are open to the general public and can be found in online shops, large retail chains and independent bookstores.
List price: This is the retail price or cover price for a book. It is often printed on the back cover and sleeves.
3. Select your business model
Booksellers can choose from a variety of business models. They’ll choose one of the following options: self-publishing to sell their books; or selling old and used books.
The internet makes self-publishing much easier thanks to the many tools that are available to help you. After you have completed your book, it can be edited and formatted by a book publishing platform such as Amazon or Apple. This will allow you to create an ebook, hardcover or paperback. You can also sell books directly through traditional distribution channels or via your own website in digital formats.
If you are looking to open an independent bookstore you will have more options to choose from. If you are looking to appeal to a particular niche, you can either sell books from a certain period or genre or simply sell books from different sources like thrift shops, garage sales and library clearance sales. You can also source inventory from:
- Online marketplaces like eBay
- Listings for local buy-and-sell
- Booksellers used
Unless the books you have are extremely rare, they will usually be sold for less than their list price. You will need to be careful about which books you have, since low-priced books can be hard to sell, especially after shipping fees.
4. Learn about the sourcing process
You will need to locate a supplier if you are opening a bookstore or intend to sell books. You can either buy books directly from publishers or through a distributor. You will want to establish a good relationship with the vendor in both cases. This can help you get discounts and other deals over time.
Although you might think it is easier to work directly with one wholesaler as a newcomer to the books market than with another, the truth is that it is easy to establish accounts with publishers directly. While some publishers require minimum orders, many allow booksellers the ability to order one book at a time. As your relationship grows, publishers may offer little extras such as letters from authors or signed bookplates.
5. Create your online bookstore
After you have chosen your business model, and selected your supplier, you are ready to set up your online shop using an ecommerce platform like Shopify.
Shopify offers a variety of pre-made themes that are appropriate for bookstores. To create the store’s design, you can add your copy, logo, or visual assets to a theme such as Minimal or Label. You can choose the page elements and colors that you want to match your layout from many themes.
Shopify offers useful apps and add-ons to help you run a bookselling business. These are just a few to check:
Easy Digital Products is the ideal solution for bookstores that want to sell digital formats such as PDFs, ebooks and audiobooks.
Kodbar: You can create a variety bar codes and labels for different products. This includes ISBNs for books.
Lulu Direct offers a print-on demand service for books.
GoodreadR Book Reviews imports GoodReads reviews and displays them on each product page.
Although it is possible to sell your books through online marketplaces or social media groups, owning your website will be more profitable in the long-term. A store can help you build long-lasting relationships and improve the perception of your book brand among customers.
6. Expand to other channels
You can also sell books via other channels than your online store.
Online marketplaces. Etsy is a great place for booksellers selling rare and vintage books. eBay is great for selling all types of used and new books. You can also sell your books on the Facebook Marketplace. This allows people to purchase your books in their locality.
Bulk sales. Nonfiction authors who sell bulk books to bookstores or institutes can make a profit. For example, medical book authors could sell to hospitals while legal writers may make more selling bulk to law firms.
Crowdfunding websites. Sites such as Kickstarter and Unbound let authors sell books directly to raise funds for print runs.
Online selling. Online selling is not your preferred method of selling. If this is the case, you can open your own brick-and mortar, pop-up or farmers market shop to boost your sales. To test whether offline selling is worthwhile, start small with a local pop-up.
It is possible to sell books online, which is easier than you might imagine.
Although it might seem that the traditional bookstore is dead, there are still many opportunities to make your bookselling dreams come true.
It is important to know your market position, how to tap into the right audience and how to do this while still making a profit.
It takes some research, a keen eye for detail, imagination, and a lot of hard work.