Ultimate Free Advertising Idea for Used Book Shops

We all know that we need to advertise, and we all know that it’s very difficult to know how and where to advertise. It tends to be expensive, and so often it doesn’t work. We know that people aren’t going to come to our book store if they don’t know we are there.

I’ve given this a lot of thought.

In my previous piece – ‘The Second Renaissance’ – I wrote about the internet and how it is changing communication and attitudes. It would seem that the internet is a good place to advertise. Websites are neither difficult nor expensive to set up and maintain. The downside is that there are, literally, billions of websites so the book buyers aren’t likely to find your website unless they already know about it.

We also know that book people – and especially used book people – like to visit as many stores as they can, because, unlike B&N or Chapters, every one of our stores is different. So I thought it would make sense to have a lot of used bookshops on one site. Actually, it would be best if ALL the used bookstores were on one site, searchable by location. If that were the case, anyone going for a drive, or moving, or visiting another city, could go to the site and find out what bookstores there were in the area, their hours, location, number of books, etc.

Next – how do we get the word out to the shops and the customers? Advertising on the net can get expensive – and, like other advertising, it often doesn’t work. We’re used book sellers – most of us don’t have much money to spare – let alone to waste! What we do have, is the customers and friends in the business. We too tend to visit other stores.

So we tell our customers and we tell our fellow booksellers. This is cooperative advertising on a grand scale – much like Abebooks or Amazon – except the site isn’t run for the benefit of some venture capitalist whose only concern is how much money can be squeezed out of each seller.

I first thought of this about five years ago. I have a friend who is a Perl programmer who set up the database for me at a reduced rate, and hosts it free. I created the rest of the website and spent many hours listing every store I could find from other lists and websites until I had nearly 900. I knew I would have to have quite a few listings if I were to be taken seriously. Finally, I launched it – www.WeSellUsedBooks.com . I don’t charge buyers or sellers.

I mass mailed to all of the listed stores about what I was doing and generally tried to get the word out. I suspect that most of my emails went straight to the spam box and were never seen. There has been a slow growth of listings – over 1200 now from several countries – but the explosion of listings that I expected didn’t happen. In the meantime, I had other concerns and pretty much left it to do it’s job – just doing basic maintenance.

Elsewhere on bookshopblog.com, either in an article or through a link – I forget which – I read about the importance of relevant links and the use of tags. Obviously I had been missing some important bits of information. It hadn’t even occurred to me to ask the listed stores who had websites to give me a link.

Putting that new knowledge into practice, in the past few weeks the links have increased from 150 to 220 and visitors to the site have doubled. If you google ‘used bookshops’ I come up around #9 and for ‘used bookstores’ #15. It’s hard to get much higher than that considering the competition ahead of me is Biblio, Abe, Amazon, etc, but I think it’s very respectable. I think it’s starting to happen!

I have a few goals with this particular article – apart from the obvious brief surge in visitors to the site: I’m hoping store owners will list their stores and tell their customers and other stores about it and I’m hoping that readers will tell their friends and the stores they visit. But most important of all, I’m hoping their will be suggestions on how to improve the site and how to get the word out to more people.

I believe that this can work for all of us, costing us no more than a few minutes each to list our stores, a few more minutes whenever we change our hours or move, and a few minutes to add a link to our personal websites, and perhaps a mention of the site on our bookmarks.

The potential is enormous! If we got big enough we could even have a listing site for B&M stores only – and it should cost a lot less than Abe or Amazon.

Together we could do it. Separately, we are just victims of the chains and the listing sites. This is the potential magic of the internet, and of the new attitudes – of working together.

I will answer anyone who comments either here or through the website, www.WeSellUsedBooks.com and I hope there are hundreds of you to respond to!

9 thoughts on “Ultimate Free Advertising Idea for Used Book Shops”

  1. Well, isn’t that just great? Just hours after I post this, our database site is down so you can’t access the stores. 🙁
    I’ve phoned the programmer but he’s out right now. I’ll post a notice as soon as it’s back up. Bob

  2. This is great. I was by your site the other day. Got there through Google and after reading the title page said, “This site is wonderful. I’ll have to get back to this when I get a chance.” Bookmarked it and immediately forgot my promise to myself.

    Count me in! The more links a website has most often the higher its profile in the search engines. This goes for each book sellers websites too. A win win if I’ve ever seen one.

    I would suggest that those wishing to participate put links to the http://www.WeSellUsedBooks.com site on any blogs they may have going too.

    Thanks for your hard work. I’ll be contacting you via email later today!


  3. You’re very kind Paul/Prying. Looking forward to hearing from you, but going to bed now (with a good book).
    Finally got hold of the programmer and he says he should have it fixed tomorrow – or – worst case – Tuesday.

  4. Perhaps in addition to having people linking to the site, you could print up fliers and send them out to participating stores, although I can see how with over 1200 bookstores that could get expensive quickly.

    Perhaps a cheaper option would be to create a digital screen saver that the various bookstores could put on their work computers, to provide a little bit of extra advertising.

    We have a company in the area that does something similar, although they provide their own digital displays to the various stores, and have been fairly successful selling digital adverts.

  5. I’ve been trying to similar forms of advertising by buying domain names that are regionally significant and match keywords that are searched frequently on Google. Certain words can advertising for businesses related to those keywords or can serve as a directory of local businesses of that type.

  6. lary from Lift Chairs – As you say, the mailing would add up.

    The second idea is where I would like the site to be – but I have a lot of work to do first (sigh). Ideally, the site would grow to the point where it would provide quick and easy access to anything Book Related that you might want to find, so that stores would use it as a homepage because of its usefullness. It needs active support from booksellers – not just a place to list their stores and forget it. That won’t do any of us much good.

    SCREENSAVER!? I read that as ‘homepage’. The screensaver is an interesting idea. I have a friend who would know how difficult or expensive that might be. Done well, it could be fun.

    Yes – that has great potential. I really like it.

    Thank you.

  7. It sounds like you’re taking care of business! I especially think that informing your current customers about your web efforts is a great idea. If you can get them online and maybe have some community interaction (like blog comments) they will actually help bring other visitors in to particpate because of the interesting interactions and activity. One thing that you could also do is offer bloggers a big discount on a book if they buy it from you and then blog about it with a link to your bookstore. What do you think?

  8. Wow Bob, great piece of interesting information!

    The best part is, advertising has a direct effect on sales & customer retaining process and a rapid change in your business.

    Thanks for sharing, keep up the good work.

  9. This is VERY embarrassing – the database was back up within a couple of days – and 18 months later I get around to saying so. I’ve got to start making notes of what I promise to do – but then I’ll probably lose the note or forget to read it.

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