My favorite thing about IOBA (Independent OnlineBooksellers Association) is the chat line. On the chat line I learn over and over how diverse a business this is. Here's a fairly typical string in which IOBAns help each other sort out a problem:
...I thought I had figured out a way to up the prices by a fixed amount in Excel. The problem was I ruined all the 978 ISBNs and didn't even realize it for a few months. It seems BookHound uses some kind of equation in the ISBN field, which I guess helps with the 10-digit, 13-digit conversion. When the .txt upload files are opened in excel all of the ISBNs are lost and the listing upload with the equation parameters because that is now filling the ISBN field...
...No, you didn't do anything wrong. Turns out, I didn't go far enough. When opening a CSV file, Excel automatically converts things that look like numbers into numbers. Then, it applies its built in maximum for turning long numbers into scientific notation...
...I was able to revert the numbers to the 13-digit numbers and delete the original isbn column without losing the numbers. Turned out that they reverted back when I re-opened the files... I’m just going to use AOB. I’m not enthusiastic about having to remember to manipulate the isbns every time I upload books, which is generally every day. It was hard enough remembering to up the prices manually and I often forgot...
This is one of IOBA's great virtues. It is a forum where booksellers can compare experiences, hash out important issues, and help one another deal with problems.
Another recent discussion concerned Amazon, eBay, ABE, and individual websites, and which venue was best, in the long run, for sales. There was a strong faction favoring eBay, including one fellow (who sells commercial book software as a sideline) opining that, "There is no question that eBay is the selling site for the future." No one seemed to really like Amazon and its increasingly difficult and unresponsive interface, but for many it was a strong source of sales. Then, of course, there was a vocal minority who touted the virtues of the proprietary website, reminding us once again that we are INDEPENDENT Online Booksellers, and how independent can we be if we depend on eBay, ABE or Amazon to sell our books?
These questions are of great interest to me, but sometimes I become disoriented. The impassioned arguments about the practices of our trade seem to deal chiefly with market share, sales percentages vs. cost, ease of uploading text and images, and procedures for altering such variables as price and shipping cost. I understand that these are important issues for any business. But it often seems we could just as well be talking about plumbing supplies or shoes.
It is worth noting that, in the ISBN conversion conversation quoted above, the noun “book” occurred only once. Even those proprietary websites that aim to provide a steady stream of sticky content revert all too often to hackneyed factoids and Wikipedia clips. Mark Twain this and Sherlock Holmes that, blah blah blah. Give me something a little spikier. For example, Garret Scott's The Bibliophagist. Consumer of Books.
Something with “book” in it, please.
On a not entirely unrelated note, I am pleased to announce that the Gibson family Christmas tree business - “Gourmet Trees” - had another successful year. We sold our stock of 100 trees in just about two weeks. My share of the profits (estimated to be in excess of $300) will be deposited in the Greg Gibson Starving Artist Writer's Shack Construction Fund, which is accumulating dough for a modest writer's shack up on the farm in Cape Breton. Crowdsourced donations are welcome.
Gibson family analysis (no, not that kind) revealed several reasons for our success:
We had a quirky, funny name, with a family backstory that made for a “sticky” brand.
This brand was efficiently marketed on social media, primarily the Celia's Flower Studio Facebook page, and by word of mouth, primarily by Celia, who knows everybody.
We owned our building and did the work ourselves, so the overhead was relatively low.
This enabled us to offer an excellent product at a reasonable price. (Trees we sold for $55 were on sale elsewhere for $75. Our profit margins were identical.)
We offered high quality, customized service in the form of a slightly drunk old guy in a red hat who would cut trees to any length, secure the purchase to the vehicle, and deliver a nonstop stream of corny jokes - “These trees are so fresh they still got birds in 'em.” etc.
I was going to write a blog about how I might apply these principles to the book business. Then I remembered that, for cultural reasons, a substantial percentage of the population feels compelled to buy Christmas trees.
The same, I'm afraid, could not be said for books.