Is the heyday of online bookselling well in the past or is this just the beginning?

We have a guest today giving us his take on the future of online sales.
Guy Weller, of the World Book Market

This is in response to the statement – ‘the reason sales are diminishing has mostly to do with the fact that the number of bookdealers and books online has been constantly increasing since…

For some of us, sales on-line have been growing steadily over recent years – coming up to my third full year on-line my Internet-derived sales have risen by 23% and 31% in the two years following my first. (And I was pretty happy with my FIRST year’s sales, believe me!)

I think the “heyday” of on-line bookselling is very much yet to come – I do not think for one minute that it has “been”.

Only a tiny splinter of retail sales are conducted even now on-line, although that number has shown robust growth in % terms since the year 2000, and that can be expected to continue. By the year 2010 it should likely be even a significant factor in bookselling around the world, which it is currently not.

Certainly this initial, “frontiersman” period of on-line bookselling has seen an explosion of all sorts of “booksellers” – call them what you will: professional, amateur, hobbyist, good ‘uns, bad ‘uns etc.

A similar phenomenon has occurred in our antiques and collectibles field, because of the impact of eBay upon both.

But in all these areas the balance of Supply and Demand is beginning to sort itself out now, and that process will complete as folk actually start BUYING on the Internet, which they are not really doing as yet, or only in very small and isolated degree.

Growth in terms of new listers and overall stock offering has largely now stagnated at sites like ABE, and could even be expected to contract somewhat in the next couple of years.

Meanwhile, the demand side is growing exponentially year by year, and is likely to continue to do so.

So I think the future quite bright for those booksellers who do the following:

(a) hang in there (important);

(b) apply a bit of scientific analysis as to who is likely to buy books on-line, and why, and what sort of book, and who pitch their on-line offerings accordingly;

(c) use their on-line listings to create initial sales which are then massaged into a broad and repeating customer-base which one handles directly via one’s own private website and email contact direct with customers. (Build a genuine “walk-in” bookstore on-line, in other words, rather than merely sell or attempt to sell produce there).

If one is simply offering a form of market-stall on-line, via whatever site(s), then one is likely to find oneself engulfed by the tsunami of like offerings, and one’s sales are likely to dwindle away to almost nothing.

If, on the other hand, one is using and exploiting the various on-line sites (not excluding eBay) to build one’s own dedicated marketplace and direct customer list for the future, then one can expect splendid and continuous growth from such a strategy.

Every sale one makes on-line is a possible gate into future sales to that same customer, of like material.

There are many booksellers who do not even HAVE a private website around which to build such a strategy, and market thrust.

Others quite confessedly make no effort to record all their on-line purchasing customers (or even at least those purchasing generic or esoteric material) into some form of future accessible database of possibble “wants”.

For these, in particular, I fear, no matter what future growth occurs within the overall online book sales future, which I believe likely to be prodigious.

Guy Weller (Mr Pickwick)

3 thoughts on “Is the heyday of online bookselling well in the past or is this just the beginning?”

  1. Appreciate this blog and Guy’s ideas. I am in the process of revising my listings–many were done by others in the past and some are incomplete and/or unsatisfactorily. The idea of a virtual bookstore is my goal. But my biggest challenge is to create a uniform set of categories for online. Today I have been experimenting with Biblio’s catalog mapping.
    Guy mention’s saving contact emails from previous buyers of unusual titles. I like that, though it goes back to a uniform cataloging system as in a B&M store.

  2. I, too, think Guy’s points are valid.
    In fact – his remarks can be applied to retailing of all merchandise everywhere.

    The principles are simple and easy to abide in the early stages of a business but as sales and customers increase the inevitability of details falling through the cracks grows in direct proportion.

    The first point (a) hang in there – is where most failings occur. Doing the same thing day after day after day is difficult in and of itself but when you are doing it for a limited market (anytime you specialize you shrink the market even more) the obstacles eventually become insurmountable.

    The appeal of selling online will surely grow forever – because it looks so easy.
    As a brick and mortar operator who dabbled in the online for a few years – I found the opposite to be true.

    I am reminded of Isaac Asimov leaving science because as he became better and better at what he did he was forced into a focus which became more and more narrow – I think the world is a better place because of his decision.

    I do think there is a possibility of a hundred or so individuals doing something worthwhile online – but I think everyone who operates a brick and mortar store will make more of a lasting mark on their communities.

    I fail to see how people sending books out of a community are much of an asset to a community.

    Somehow, somewhere this cry in the wilderness will become louder and louder … smile.

  3. I agree with Guy Weller on several points, most notably that the online bookselling market will continue to expand. I hold this view despite remarkable advances in eBook acceptance and online content.

    I get my optimistic view because, of all things, the development of digital printing technology which has leveled the playing field for tens of thousands of authors who are choosing the self-publishing route and bypassing New York publishing houses to bring their works to market.

    What does this mean to the Internet bookseller? According to the total number of book titles published worldwide leaped from approximately 250,000 in 2002 to more than 550,000 in 2008! That’s great news for Internet booksellers because many of those books will find their way into the secondary market where they’ll be discovered by book scouters and listed online. Yes, the future looks bright indeed.

    Joe Waynick, author
    Internet Bookselling Made Easy! How to Earn a Living Selling Used Books Online
    Bookseller Resources:
    Follow me on Twitter at:

Comments are closed.