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Setting Up Your Own Bookstore On Your Website

Ned Marcus

Inkling
Has anyone set up their own bookstore on their website? It's something I'd like to do in 2022.

If you have, what's your experience been?

Have you been able to match the bookstore appearance with the rest of your website? I know that some (all?) of the companies helping with this will actually sell the books on their website which is set up for taking payments.

Also, do you still send readers to other online retailers? I don't want to take that option away.
 
I don't sell direct, I'm just curious.

Do you want to sell ebooks or paperbacks?

What software does your website use?

I think those are the two main questions. Most modern website software will support some form of e-commerce. Wordpress probably has half a dozen plug-ins you can use. Many of the paid services like Wix probably have some e-commerce ad-on you can purchase as well. Which should solve the website issue.

As for delivery. For ebooks you can use book-funnel. They support 1-time downloads (or downloads if you're on a specific email list), and they have good support for when users have trouble getting the book on their device.

For physical books I have no idea. You could simply use Amazon to deliver to them, but there's probably some other drop-shipping companies as well.

All in all, I think the technical part is the easy part. The hard part is to get people to actually visit your website and purchase your books.
 

Chasejxyz

Inkling
Hi, my day job is working for an online book retailer. And let me tell you, you don't want to do this!

Are you ready, willing, and able to buy a ton of books ahead of time, have them sit in a dry room in your house for months at a time, along with all the materials for packaging and shipping, and taking trips to the post office multiple times a week? Are you prepared to answer people's emails when they ask just where the heck their package is? Are you okay with taking the financial hit to send a new copy if the customer's got chewed up by the mail or just never showed up at all? What about returns, how are you going to do that? What if someone uses a stolen credit card to buy books? How are you going to detect and prevent fraud?

Even if you don't program your own website (which is insane, btw, Shopify and Square and stuff already exist, there is no reason to make your own), there is a LOT you need to do to make it happen. Hence why Back In The Day it wasn't "shipping" cost it was "shipping and handling." Are you prepared to do all that handling? Or would you rather spend your time actually writing?
 

Ned Marcus

Inkling
Thanks for the replies. I've done some basic research but wanted to ask questions to someone who's already tried this because some things you only learn by experience.

I want to sell ebooks. I'd never sell physical books myself for the reasons Chasejxyz gives. There are companies that provide a service for selling POD physical books from your website, but they're quite expensive unless your paper book sales are good.

I have no plans nor the ability to create my own bookstore from scratch. I was thinking of using Selz or Payhip. I've heard both are relatively easy to set up, but I have questions about both that I can't find in their sales literature.
 

Chasejxyz

Inkling
I want to sell ebooks.

Okay, now, imagine yourself as a customer. You want to buy a new book to read and put it on your, say, Kindle or Kobo. How are you going to buy that? Well, you're going to go to the Kindle Store or Kobo Store and browse around. And this isnice, because whatever you buy will automatically go on your device, how nice! What about customers who read on their phone for some reason? Well, they could be using those apps, or Google or Apple Books, which are apps already on their phones and will get the files nicely onto their phones.

So. Why would a customer go to YOUR site, who they've never heard of and have no reason to believe is secure or not a scam, and download a FILE which they then have to manually put on their ereader or phone?

I get that you want to make the extra, like, 30 cents in profit in sales but also you are throwing up all these hurdles to make your book discoverable, purchasable, and consumable. Someone might go through this effort to read the new Stephen King book. They are not going to bother doing that with your book.

So be honest with yourself: what are your goals for selling ebooks yourself? What is the thing that you want that you can ONLY accomplish by doing this? And is that actually worth it?
 
So. Why would a customer go to YOUR site, who they've never heard of and have no reason to believe is secure or not a scam, and download a FILE which they then have to manually put on their ereader or phone?
Those are issues, but they can be solved.

The thing is, if you just put up a store on your website for your books, then no one will go there. You're competing with established stores who have dozens of people working on being found and ranking high. You're competing with the millions of books added to digital bookstores each year. From what I've heard, people who do this tend to sell only a handful of books directly through their website, and it doesn't scale very well (as in, most plateau around a few hundred a month).

I have read cases where it does work. There's a few people in the 20booksto50k facebook group who make all (or almost all) of their income from selling directly through their website. The most common way people do this is that they put up their work for free on their website. Put it up there as a serial, with a new installment each day / week (shorter is better).

You make money in a few ways:
- once a story is finished, you bundle the installments and sell them as a completed book. Fans will still buy the completed novel, because they want to have it in one place and they want to support you. You could also have the finished book edited, so that if they want the final version they need to buy the book.
- patreon: keep reminding people that you're delivering this content for free and donations help keep it free. And you could have some bonus content for subscribers.
- swag: there's plenty of companies who do print on demand t-shirts, mugs, buttons, stickers and what have you. They usually even include the shipping and handling, which means all you need is to create the stuff and put it on your website.
- ads: while banner ads are become less profitable each year, they still bring in some revenue.

If you want to see this in action, check out Schlock Mercenary - The Comic Space Opera by Howard Tayler. He basically does all the above (for a webcomic, but the idea remains the same).
 

Ned Marcus

Inkling
What is the thing that you want that you can ONLY accomplish by doing this? And is that actually worth it?



I don't think it's either or. I'd certainly continue to sell my books on Amazon, Kobo, B&N, and all other platforms, so why not add one more?

I agree that it's hard. No doubt about that, but I think most marketing is hard; it's not a reason not to try, unless, as you ask, if it's just not worth the hassle. I'd probably have to spend half a day setting it up—so that's something for me to think about.

Why would anyone buy on my website?

I'd expect most people to continue to buy on Amazon and other retailers. I'll certainly still link to them. But some people prefer to shop in craft markets, local shops, and just to help smaller businesses. And some people try to avoid giant corporations.

Second, I could offer discounts via coupons that wouldn't cause Amazon to price match.

I'd tell my email list and advertise it on my website, so the amount of people who would discover it would be small, but hopefully something. I'd use Book Funnel to help deliver the books, so readers wouldn't have to side load the books onto their device, and Book Funnel deal with customer enquiries and issues with downloading. They also allow readers to re-download their books when they replace their device.

It's not a 30c difference. It's more than that.

When I sell on Amazon I get 70% of the price, but because I live in a country with no tax agreement with the US, I have to then pay 30% tax to the US government (that's before paying tax in my country). Then they post me a cheque. Then I have to pay about $45 to cash the cheque as well as waiting for about 5 weeks for the cheque to clear. If I sell my own books, I can avoid all of this and will get the money within minutes.

Selling books on my own website should allow me to collect 80-90% of the total without the other deductions I mentioned above. So there would be benefits.

I don't expect to make a fortune doing this; I'm just interested to try something new, and I'm an independent person, so I like the idea. I've just read some articles by Joanna Penn at the Creative Penn, where she breaks down her earnings by category. In 2019, she sold about 1% of her books directly from her website. In 2021, this had gone up to 6%. Those are her self-reported figures. She's a better marketer than me, but it's still interesting.
 
I sell autographed copies off my website, but I'd never go full-blown on print. A digital store is fairly easy using Bookfunnel and whatever payment system. My experiment with this was... okay. But it ads yet another layer of work to everything. That said, I am considering reopening direct digital sales for the Sundering the Gods trilogy where you buy all the books and save $5. My motivation here is twofold, to again experiment with direct sales, and to be able to utilize the FB pixel in tracking and targeting sales for conversion.

That said, I chatted briefly on FB with a lady who says half her digital sales are now direct, but she spent a lot of time getting her stuff setup.
 
The one thing to possibly be aware of is ranking. If like me you're only selling a handful of copies per month, then each sale counts in terms of ranking. If then my most loyal buyers buy direct instead of from a store I lose a large part of my sales there. In the short term it nets me more profit, but in the long term I lose their boost to my ranking and populating my also-boughts and all that. Which might have a negative impact on sales in the long term.
 

Ned Marcus

Inkling
The one thing to possibly be aware of is ranking. If like me you're only selling a handful of copies per month, then each sale counts in terms of ranking. If then my most loyal buyers buy direct instead of from a store I lose a large part of my sales there. In the short term it nets me more profit, but in the long term I lose their boost to my ranking and populating my also-boughts and all that. Which might have a negative impact on sales in the long term.

A good point. Perhaps setting up a bookstore on your own site is a better strategy when sales are in the 100s or 1000s per day :)
 

Puck

Minstrel
Why not simply link from you site to the platform(s) where your books are being sold? If you try to do it yourself on your own site - that's a whole new world of other considerations.

For a start if your site is with a Go-Daddy or a Wix or any other 'build your own free website' service, you will find that only certain types of online shopping plug ins will work with them (i.e. usually just their own ones and no-one else's). Not all of those are suited to selling ebooks (most assume you are an online retailer of shoes or something).

So I would first look at what online shopping plug-ins work with the platform your site is on. You can't just move your site away from one of these proprietary platforms easily either. Usually you'll find you need to re-design your whole website from scratch on Wordpress or something. These 'build your own free...' offers are never free - they make their money from selling you their online shopping plug-ins and other bolt-on goodies.
 

Slartibartfast

Minstrel
Why not simply link from you site to the platform(s) where your books are being sold?

Depending on Ts&Cs you can often get affiliate commission on sales of your own products being sold by another seller which is a nice bonus if you set it up right.

My experience of online commerce is that my wife owns an online shop that is secondary to market and show trading. The thing takes hours of time to administrate and run and lost money for its first few years. Even now, it has never earned a meaningful profit, but makes sense as a part of a broader business - just about anyway. You could make a fairly sensible case that it only exists because of the sunk-costs fallacy with a side order of sheer bloody-mindedness.

I'm not exactly saying don't do it. It was/is fun for us. Just bear in mind that our platform (Shopify) used to cheerfully inform us of our comparative ranking compared to other shops which launched in the same month. We are in the top two percent: forty nine out of fifty people have a worse experience than us and I'm not even sure we ever really broke even.
 

Ned Marcus

Inkling
Why not simply link from you site to the platform(s) where your books are being sold? If you try to do it yourself on your own site - that's a whole new world of other considerations.

That's exactly what I do on my books page.

Technically, I don't think it's too hard to set up a bookstore on my site—there are lots of companies that help for a small percentage of the sale. Prince of Spires' point is good, and I may well delay for this reason, but in the future, I'm still keen.
 

Ned Marcus

Inkling
Depending on Ts&Cs you can often get affiliate commission on sales of your own products being sold by another seller which is a nice bonus if you set it up right.

It's worth doing, although Amazon keep reducing the amount they pay affiliates.

(Shopify) used to cheerfully inform us of our comparative ranking compared to other shops which launched in the same month. We are in the top two percent: forty-nine out of fifty people have a worse experience than us and I'm not even sure we ever really broke even.

I'm sure this is quite common.
 
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