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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Alibris sales

Alibris made a small cameo at the tail end of a Wall Street Journal article today about Cyber Monday.

"... Another site reporting strong orders was online bookseller Alibris. Its sales appeared likely to end up at least 50% higher than the same day last year, says Brian Elliot, the company's chief operating officer. The site also saw "great" order volume over Thanksgiving weekend, up 60% compared to last year, he says."

Pui-Wing Tam, "Cyber Monday Sales Were Strong, Web Sites Say," Wall Street Journal, 11/29/2005, B9.

EDIT: Alibris' was conservative when talking to the WSJ, they have informed me that sales were up 100% - not 50% - with then entire weekend (Friday-Monday) up 70%.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Pew Study on Internet Selling

The Pew Internet and American Life Project recently published a study (Study: pdf-longer, html-brief) regarding selling goods online. There are a few interesting findings here and some painfully obvious ones as well. The most stark statistical fact, for me, was that nearly twice as many people from the $50,000 income level sold goods online than the under $30,000 income level. Given the broad scope of the study, it is not surprising that they find that classified sites (Craigslist) and auction sites (eBay) are the most popular methods of selling online.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

New USPS Rates

I tried to avoid the blog for the long weekend, but had to break down today as I really got inundated with tips, questions, and news stories about the new USPS Rates. The rates, effective 8 January 2006 should not be a surprise to anyone, especially the new Media Mail rates. Despite our encouragement to do so, no listings service has taken the initiative to reassure its sellers that the increase will not burden them. Those listings services offering sellers the opportunity to set their own shipping prices will certainly gain a competitive advantage over other websites (like Alibris and Amazon) until an official statement is made regarding this matter. Cross your fingers for good news.

See also, opinion/column on this issue, a career government employee's take, new USPS extra service rates.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Got a niche? Start a website.

Few online booksellers consider creating a full service website to sell their books. Their main reason for this is that competing with the 'big boys' is impossible. In some sense they are right. However, do not be misled by this assumption; creating a website can do a lot for your business. A website helps with your professional image, customer loyalty, and other intangible factors. OF couse those things do not translate on to paper. What you are really worried about is SALES. In my opinion, a website can certainly be successful with an informed webmaster and a little work. How: exploiting a niche market.

Of all of the webtrends right now, niche markets, is the one that is gaining the most buzz. If you have solid collections of military history books, cinema books, postmodernism books, or whatever... you can generate solid traffic and sales for your own website. In the age of "corporate" and "mega" small businesses are finding success within a "niche." For web development, the key is to develop the website based solely around that niche. Sure you may have other types of books and want to list ALL of then on your website but you have to focus 95% of website space and content ON YOUR NICHE (avoid niche dilution). [Tip: CONTENT is key: add informative articles or reviews on the genre/theme in general to your website. This is the best way to boost search engine rankings.]

After the holiday, I will discuss more about hosting options, credit card processing, graphic design for dummies (like me), and marketing. You may find with a little guidance this project will be much easier and cheaper than you think. A new website with a shiny new domain name would be a great way to start of 2006.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Amazon Scores with "Upgrade" service

It isn't Google Print, or even Amazon Pages (pay-per-page).... it is better. Amazon Upgrade makes use of digital technology in a way that make sense. The Upgrade service will allow you to purchase (no specifics yet on how) the right to search within an entire book, but only after purchasing the hard copy from its site. This is a great way to incorporate the best of both worlds, and would most certainly BOOST online book sales. The question is... can you upgrade marketplace purchases? I am not sure, but I would bet not. (Link: CNet news column)

Monday, November 21, 2005

Biblio Announcement and Marketing Plan

We received two emails today from Biblio's Kevin Donaldson, Director of Sales and Marketing. The first was a press release stating that Biblio has been selected as part of Internet Retailer's Best of the Web - Top 50 Retail Sites. These are not necessarily the biggest or most popular internet sites, but rather those that "innovate" and work "to improve online shopping. This is a huge achievement for Biblio and should help the site grow immensely in 2006. The list will officially be announced in early December by Internet Retailer.

The other email focused on our series of postings regarding marketing approaches for the Holiday/Spring semester, of which an annotated version is quoted below.

"We are distributing our new bookmarks to Biblio.com Bookseller Members that request them. We have tied this in with a fundraiser for our next library project in Bolivia through our newly formed not-for-profit BiblioWorks. Biblio.com will also be working with college campus representatives, our strategic partners, and a college marketing firm to get the word out on campuses for the Spring Semester. We will also begin promoting IOBABooks.com, (which we developed the technology for) with the Independent Online Booksellers Association to generate interest in this organization that we wholly support in its mission to perpetuate quality online bookselling standards. We will also actively promote the Fine Books’ Collegiate Book Collecting Championship of which we are a major sponsor, on campuses and in Fine Books & Collections Magazine throughout 2006."


Are You Ready for Black Monday?

This is an important week for online retailers - including us online booksellers! These few days before the holiday give us time for our final preparation before Black Monday. Black Monday is the Monday following the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, aka. the biggest online shopping day of the year. As the Wall Street Journal said today, "With the rapid expansion of the Internet, the Monday after Thanksgiving has grown to be the all-important kick-off to the online holiday shopping season. On that day, consumers head back to work - and their computers - ready to shop after the long holiday weekend."

Use this week wisely and make sure all of your books are listed for the holiday season, your website Christmas incentives are implemented, and you have plenty of bubble mailers (gratuitous plug).

Christmas Tips for eBay Sellers

Ok, it's Thanksgiving week so I can finally begin talking about Christmas without a subconscious disdain for the protracted "holiday season." In any event, Auctionbytes has a nice little article on "Christmas Tips for eBay Sellers." Worth a look, if just to get your creative juices flowing.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Bulk Bubble Mailers

Over at my wholesale bargain book site, LRABooks, we are offering bubble mailers in bulk at extremely competitive price points. By far the best deal is on the truckload (350 cases), but we now also offer 10 cases of #2 and #4 as well as 5 cases of #6 at very competitive prices. We will soon have #3 and #7 available in 10 case quantity.

The best part of our offering is that we do not charge shipping through our site, but rather we have the customer use their preferred carrier account. This allows you to choose your carrier, ensure exact shipping charges (no hidden handling fees), and take advantage of the discount you have worked out with your carrier (good for ABA members who use FedEx). As always, truckload shipping is free.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

UPS Rates Up

UPS rates have skyrocketed this past year, mostly in terms of their fuel surcharge fee. Their base rates, however, will also be going up in 2006 (competitor FedEx announced similar increases last month). Of particular interest to booksellers (particularly those receiving incoming freight), is the fact that Ground rates will increase nearly 4 percent, with no decrease in the fuel surcharge. BSOB still recommends using DHL, which offers more competitive rates and better service than both of the main American carriers (unfortunately). We are not affiliated with any of these services in any way. (Full information: LAT News article)

Friday, November 18, 2005

Alibris marketing approach

In an email from Alibris regarding marketing for the next few months, we received the following:

"For November, we’ve launched the Wish-and-Win Holiday Book Giveaway, which in its first week generated 25,000 additions to Alibris wish lists. We’ll be launching a three pronged email promotion starting November 21, and will likely do some PR in this same time frame. For December, we’re toying with a few ideas, which I can’t share now, but will once they’re firmed up. For the January textbook season, we have two initiatives that we’re discussing, but both may fall to the August season rather then the January. Give me a few weeks and I can provide a bit more to you – as we have quite a few things in the pipeline."

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Abe's Marketing Efforts

As promised, we would pass along the Holiday/Spring Semester marketing plans if we receive them. Here's Abebooks:
Abebooks.com has partnered with Aloha Airlines for this year’s Holiday campaign and there is a contest to win a trip to Hawaii and encourage visitors to take a look at our ‘Holiday Shop’ - an area of the site totally dedicated to making gift buying easy... The Holiday campaign is supported with over 800,000 holiday bookmarks that have been made available to booksellers to distribute in all book orders in November and December... Our ‘Avid Reader’ e-newsletters for November and December, which go out to hundreds of thousands of booklovers, are heavily slanted towards books for the Holiday season... We are going to be running the Get Smart campaign (see previous BSOB article) again in December, January and February with street teams visiting US colleges. There will be more exciting contests on Textbook Central once again.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Textbook Renting... The next trend?

There is a growing buzz on college campuses and in the academic book market surrounding the idea of textbook rental. The basic concept allows students to rent their books for the semester for a nominal fee (around $75), expand their minds, and return them at the end of the term. The idea sounds like a logical plan to cut the cost of higher education for students. Success of these programs on a widescale level would certainly dampen online book sales significantly. In addition, there is a significantly larger problem. If educators and universities endorse this program, they are buying into the continued commodification of higher education in the US. A book represents, more than, a means to get the grade, pass the class, and earn the credits. It should be part of a larger, lifelong, enlightenment that a student can refer back to for other classes or even later in life (ideally). Obviously, there are some students who never even consider BUYING texts a possibility (because of economics), but alternative programs should be created to help give these students the benefit of taking Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics and marking it up with notes, interjecting thoughts in the margin, wearing the spine down, and the like.

I find it hard to believe that these programs will catch on.... Not because of the reasons I listed (unfortunately), but because it is so far from the ideal for everyone involved (students, educators, booksellers, publishers).

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Ebay Ends Developer Fees

Finally, eBay has decided to offer free access to its application programming interface (API). The changes should increase the amount of free third party software available for the site. (News link and here).

Repost: Blog Chicklet

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Monday, November 14, 2005

Let's Sell Some Books!

Okay folks, we are getting close to a big time of the year for online booksellers. Both Christmas and Spring semester textbook sales represent an important period for us. The time also marks an important period for website marketers to expand their customer base. Because their marketing is our marketing, I will make an attempt to learn how each site will be marketing itself during this crucial period.

Specifically regarding textbook sales, though, I believe it is important to hit the students early. A great ad campaign, run say during college basketball or football Bowl games, encouraging students to look at their booklists for the semester and begin buying now to save money. After all, nearly all students would buy their books online if time was not a concern. The problem is most college students are lazy - they need a push or a reminder.

Only 10-20% of students buy their books online (depending on the study)! That's pathetic, we need to get that number way up. Perhaps, on a larger scale, a program with schools/states to publish booklists early and make books easily purchasable would help. Although many official bookstores have a lock on these lists, some states have passed laws mandating the lists be available to the public as soon as they become available. This type of project, even for a few dozen schools, would be a great expansion possibility for any site (perhaps especially so for someone like Bookfinder). If a metaseach/price comparison site could implement something, it'd be a big boost for all book websites. Imagine if students could purchase all of their books at the cheapest internet price by only visiting one site! This is a huge opportunity that demands attention, even if solid results have proven elusive in the past.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Track Packages From (Nearly) Any Shipper

Growing competition in the shipping arena has led many booksellers to use a variety of different shippers to move books. Even "priviliged" accounts with the major carriers are finding that they can use the multitude of options in the shipping world to save money. The problem is that this often leaves us tracking packages from many different websites. Enter PackTrack.

This website offers a simple display and the ability to track packages from around 60 carriers. Also, if you register, the interface is customizable. I especially love the basic, no frills layout. I do not have to choose my country, accept the terms of agreement, etc before tracking a shipment. I love it. (Via Lifehacker)

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Should You Open an eBay Store?

The very first selling venue for this online bookseller was eBay, some 10 years ago. Now, I spend more time on the site as a buyer (of personal items really) or doing research more than anything else. Surprisingly, the other day I received (in the snail mail no less!) an announcement/marketing sheet promoting eBay stores. I really believe some form of virtual storefront is a worthwhile investment for the medium-large sized sellers. However, I am not sure eBay is the right way to go. To help everyone decipher this question, Entrepreneur has posted a clear and concise article to help. The information is definitely worth the 2 minutes it takes to read.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Addall response to Abe acquisition

From Hup Chen, Technical Manager, Addall.com
"I believe the acquisition is a good strategic move for both Abebooks and Bookfinder. The move by Abebooks shows the tremendous potential that is yet to be seen with the book search market. I am looking forward to the new challenges their joint operation might bring as a competitor."

Some information from ABE

This morning we asked Richard Davies (PR Manager) some questions that pertained to our initial reaction to the Abebooks acquisition of BookFinder. I've decided to share the entirety of the exchange.

Will Abebooks be featured on Bookfinder, in terms of banner ads, non-search result links, or other marketing?

Davies (Abe): No

How will Abebooks disclose its ownership of the Bookfinder on the BF site proper? Davies (Abe): Davies (Abe): Yes - the fact will be stated on the site, probably in a simple sentence without any fanfare. At the moment, the changes have been revealed in the BookFinder.com Journal in Anirvan’s own, very personal, words. That’s his style and we don‚’t want to change it.

Is an expansion planned in terms of partners or otherwise?
Davies (Abe): One of the reasons for acquiring BookFinder.com is that it has huge potential, so we are committed to helping Anirvan and Charlie develop new relationships with partners and expand the business. We have staff dedicated to developing new relationships in our offices in Canada, Germany and Spain, plus we travel to many major book fairs around the world in order to do just that.

Will Abe pay for a new marketing push for the site?
Davies (Abe): BookFinder.com is a profitable business and can fund its own marketing push. We can help by offering all the skills (and experienced personnel) within our marketing department (eg. online and offline marketing, events, PR, creative designer etc).

Boris Wertz told Shelf Awareness that the acquisition "strengthens our position in North America". If BookFinder is going to remain the same and independent, how does it do so? Davies (Abe): The acquisition will help us strengthen our position in North America as Bookfinder.com appeals to a certain group of book-buyers that Abebooks can not reach directly. They may be price-conscious or simply eager to compare retailers and marketplaces. The acquisition therefore extends our reach and helps us get closer to our vision of helping people to find and buy any book from any bookseller anywhere.

Ebay Listing Fee Sale

Today, November 8th all eBay listings will be only 10 cents, with some exceptions that should not apply to online booksellers. (Link)

Monday, November 07, 2005

Biblio's Official Release

From Biblio:
“Our CEO, Brendan Sherar gave a courtesy call to Anirvan Chatterjee, CEO and co-founder of BookFinder.com this morning to follow up with him concerning the merger. We extended our personal congratulations to Anirvan for what seems to be a fantastic business move for him, and we wish him the best in that regard. Brendan also discussed with him our basic concerns about where this might take BookFinder as an independent resource for finding books in which unbiased search is to the benefit of bookseller and customer alike. Anirvan responded by letting us know that Bookfinder intends to remain an independent entity though operating under new ownership. He assured us there would also be no preferential exposure for ABEBooks listings, ABE will not be raising commission rates paid to BookFinder to squeeze competition, nor will ABEBooks be given any access to any proprietary information provided to BookFinder by Biblio.com. We have done business with Anirvan for a couple of years now and our mutual trust and business relationship have been nothing but positive for both companies. Our immediate concerns have been assuaged, so we wish the best to the BookFinder team!”

Local newspaper first to report

The first non press release hit we've gotten in the inbox regarding the acquisition of BF is a brief from the San Francisco Business Journal.

BSOB Initial Response

When I first started working in the online book industry, I fell in love with BookFinder. Its no frills site design and unbiased search capacity represented an independent outpost in an increasingly corporate and consolidated book market. While I have ceased using the site regularly some time ago, I still love "stopping by" to review the Journal and to reference their important and unique "Report."

I have no idea how this merger will play out practically, in terms of search results, site advertisements, and the like, and will not be so presumptuous as to hazard a guess.

Nevertheless, I have one lingering question from the ABE side... WHY? Abe has spent the last month or so telling us all that they are committed to securing their own position as the "world's largest online marketplace for books," hence the dropping of the partner programs. How does this achieve that goal? Doesn't it work against it? I guess that I am more confused than anything else.

Moreover, we have to assume that BookFinder shopped this deal to similar sites, in which the acquisition may make more sense. Why didn't these sites jump on the deal? Perhaps a look at the Alexa traffic details for BookFinder gives us a clue...?

Alibris response to BF/Abe merger

Alibris congratulates Anirvan, Charlie and Wendy, who worked for years to build Bookfinder.com into one of a handful of independent and unbiased online resources for bibliophiles. They deserve and should enjoy the fruits of their labor. However, we are naturally concerned that the very attributes that contributed to Bookfinder.com’s success – independent and unbiased – are at risk. The loss of an unbiased source would have an adverse effect on sellers and consumers alike.

Wow... Abebooks Acquires Bookfinder.com

Official Press Release

(Victoria, BC – November 7, 2005) Abebooks.com, the world’s largest online marketplace for new and used books, has acquired BookFinder.com - the leading price comparison shopping service dedicated to books.

The acquisition unites two pioneering independent forces in Internet bookselling. Both companies are privately owned and profitable. Both companies were initially developed in 1996, support independent booksellers and share the same mission of making online book buying easy.

BookFinder.com lets buyers search through over 100 million new, used, rare, and out-of-print books for sale from thousands of booksellers. Partners include A1Books, Abebooks, Alibris, Amazon.com and its global network of sites, Barnes & Noble.com, Biblio.com, Buy.com, Chapters.indigo.ca, ILAB (International League of Antiquarian Booksellers), Overstock.com and Powell’s Books.

Berkeley-based BookFinder.com and its staff will join the Abebooks family but operate independently, remain unchanged and continue to be located in California. BookFinder.com will receive immediate access to Abebooks’ resources to fuel growth.

“Our goal is to help booklovers find and buy any book from any bookseller anywhere, so the acquisition of BookFinder.com makes perfect sense,” said Hannes Blum, Abebooks president and CEO. “Like us, BookFinder.com is dedicated to books and makes finding them simple. Part of the site’s success can be attributed to its integrity and we are committed to maintaining BookFinder.com’s unbiased independence. Our focus will be to continue the BookFinder.com success story.”

Anirvan Chatterjee, CEO and co-founder of BookFinder.com, said: “This is an exciting opportunity for BookFinder.com to develop and grow. With access to Abebooks’ skills, resources and funding, we will be able to expand and help many more book-buyers find and buy books. We have known Abebooks for eight years and always enjoyed an excellent relationship, so we are looking forward to working with the Abebooks team.”

BookFinder.com was founded by Chatterjee, a then-University of California, Berkeley undergraduate, and Charlie Hsu, an undergraduate from the University of California, Davis. It generates revenue by receiving a commission from purchases that result from a buyer being forwarded to a bookseller’s website. Hundreds of thousands of book searches are conducted daily.

The acquisition comes with online retailing enjoying unprecedented growth in used books. In September, the Book Industry Study Group’s report revealed the used book business was worth $2.2 billion in sales last year with ecommerce sales enjoying growth of 38% from 2003 to 2004.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Brace Yourself... Another Surprise

Booksellers: Stay tuned into BSOB on Monday as a significant "surprise" will be the focus of our postings for the day- you'll be interested.... trust me.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

USPS Rate Increases

The Postal Rate Commission (PRC) officially delivered its recommendations for a postal rate increase in 2006. There is no doubt that the USPS has been hit hard by rising gas costs given its lack of flexibility to add a fuel surcharge or similar (we posted on this in early September). The hardest hit rate, in terms of percentage increase, will be Media Mail.

The PRC proposed a 12.9% increase on this type of package. This would bump up your standard 1 lb. package from $1.42 to $1.60. According to the summary current charges are too low to cover the cost of processing Media Mail. The increase in price is understandable, if difficult to swallow, and may be worth it if the resulting USPS handling of Media Mail is improved (now there is some wishful thinking).

No listings service that sets shipping has made an official announcement on the proposal. The sooner a site comes out and assures its booksellers that it will increase their shipping reimbursement 12.9% to match the increase, the sooner booksellers will commit to that site for 2006.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Abebooks Discusses Partner Changes

Sue Connors, Director of Abebooks Sales and Account Management, was kind enough to reply to some questions we asked her today regarding the site. Our primary question surrounded the idea of "partner" sites and whether or not Abe has any plans to seek new partners. As they've mentioned previously, Abe plans on leaving the "partner" model behind them, and focusing on sales generated through its site proper.

According to Connors, "The aggregator model (where we list multiple booksellers under one account) simply does not work due to the volume of inventory in an aggregator account and the limited 'pipeline and processing' to these partner sites. There is too much data to process book changes or deletes to ensure customers are getting what they're ordering on these sites and are not disappointed in the Abebooks' service."

Connors continues on to say that booksellers focusing on "new" books should not fear losing a significant amount of sales because of the changes. Most of the sales to partner sites were for lower priced used/rare books - not necessarily new ones as many assume. In general, it is Abe's goal, according to Connors, to meet all of the book wants of its customers - used, rare, and new. In fact, even according to Abe customers who consider themselves "collectors", 39% of their book purchases on the site are for new books.

What we have here, when compared to Alibris, are two listings services, prepared to go two radically different ways. On the one hand, Abe is confident enough in its own model to continue its current seller fee structure despite the loss in partner sales and has no plans of making up for the loss with new partners. On the other hand, Alibris, hopes to mitigate the loss of Amazon by adding Half, a site that Abebooks dropped. Alibris maintains strong partnerships with sites like Barnes and Noble and continues to put efforts into expanding and improving partner programs.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

12 Ways to Increase Online Sales

Entrepreneur has posted an interesting article on how to convert website traffic into sales. Some of these tips are not necessarily relevant to your website, but others are perfect. If you do not have website yet, I highly encourage you to consider creating one. Even if you simply sign-up for the domain name and email, it will pay dividends in the future. Most services offer yearly service for under $100, the chore is choosing the right host (we do not recommend StartLogic). Website design is simply with Front Page or my preferred free development software NVU.