Thinking About a Website? This Might Be the Time.
By Renée Magriel Roberts
Our internet-based company, Rose's Books, has been going without its own website. I know what you're thinking: the shoemaker's kids have no shoes; the plumber's pipes are bursting; and I've been giving everyone advice about using the Internet without having a website of our own. OK, fair enough. But there are plenty of reasons for NOT having a website, as well as reasons for creating one.
Here's how I've been thinking about the problem: When we started our book business I quickly saw that not only did we not need our own website, but that it was simply uneconomical to have one. This is for two reasons -- the big sites like Amazon and ABE dominate hyperspace as customer destinations. Having a site of one's own is kind of like selling books on Pluto (especially given that it is no longer part of our solar system ;-( ). The other reason has to do with time-and-money: a start-up business is better off using someone else's webmaster, someone else's server and even someone else's back office credit card processing system, not to mention someone else's book database software.
If you are only one or two people and don't want to encumber yourself with unnecessary employees or very expensive contractors, the path of least resistance is to use, and to pay for, resources commonly shared by a great many other vendors with similar needs, not to mention taking advantage of software that is free. Free is a good word when you are a start-up.
Of course, the flip-side to this equation is what you pay the sites for the privilege of listing there. Anyone who has read any of my articles on Americana Exchange knows that I am not a big fan of the huge fees currently being charged by the mega-sites like ABE. Because they were and are the destinations of choice for most of the world's book customers, for a long time the choice was their way or the highway.
With the increased use of the book search engines, however, like Google, Froogle, BookFinder, AddAll, and many others, customers now have a way to find you on the secondary sites like Biblio, ChooseBooks/ZVAB, and TomFolio, a very attractive and relatively inexpensive co-op site, as well as on eBay. With the Google family, they can also find you on your own website and paid advertising is available to list your site when certain key words are selected.
I've always maintained a site with little or no commission attached, but now that we have an active customer base and new customers can find their way to our books through the book search engines, I have come to the conclusion that having our own presence is finally cost-effective. Also once we are engaged with customers, it is far better to direct them to our own site where we can offer the same books as we do on the mega-sites somewhat discounted. Many of the dealers who sell on ABE and who are also members of ILAB or IOBA, for example, sell their books for less money on the organization sites, and still others bend over backwards to direct their customers to buy from their own website.