Rare Book Monthly

Articles - May - 2008 Issue

Why Trade Globally?

Capecod

Cape Cod has a seasonal economy.


By Renée Magriel Roberts

We live and work on Cape Cod, a beautiful place, with more temperate weather than most of New England during the year. From an economic perspective, however, the Cape has long been somewhat infamous for its seasonal tourist economy, a kind of boom-or-bust cycle that peaks during the tourist season in July and August, and can drop to depressing levels the rest of the year when the Cape is home to a less affluent year-round population who can't afford the time or money to escape to warmer climes.

Add to this the incredible pressure on bricks-and-mortar stores by the Internet. So when we opened our rare book business after a long stint in the computer technology world, we decided to eschew bricks-and-mortar, saving a ton of monthly overhead, and the uneven local economy and go Web-only. And not only go Web, but go global.

Selling books overseas can be a daunting and somewhat scary business, and it is certainly not without its dangers. Incredibly there is little help to be had from even the largest local banks, the Chamber of Commerce, or the United States Department of Commerce. Nonetheless, from a business perspective, global trading has been very important and certainly now forms a significant amount of our sales and purchases.

We did start with a linguistic advantage. It helps to be able to communicate in more than one language. We have spoken and written French, written Italian, German, and Russian. But even if you skipped out on your high school language classes, you can still sell books overseas.

Most of our books are written in English, although we list books written in any language that uses the Roman alphabet. So, to begin with, we are dealing with customers who by and large can already read English, even if we cannot read their native language. It helps, however, to be able to communicate politely with them.

First of all, and pardon me if this seems overly simplistic, it really helps to understand what niceties are generally expected by customers in different countries. For example, communications in some countries always begin with an English honorific (Mr., Ms.). Our casual American way of addressing new acquaintances by their first names can seem rude to people who live elsewhere. So, even when I receive an order from a website that omits the honorific, I try to add it to my address labels and communications.

Similarly, the way in which we end letters may not be ideal - it can seem rather cold to conclude a note with "yours truly" or nothing at all but your company name. A lot of people like to know with whom they are trading, so I always include a real name, generally mine, as well as anything someone might need to communicate with us, like email address, fax number, telephone, or mailing address. If a country uses a warm closing, I try to emulate it in my English-language closing.

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