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!