Over the last two years, commerce has made a huge move from brick and mortar to online. Of course, the global pandemic had a lot to do with that. But even without being forced to shop online, ecommerce has enjoyed steady growth for the last 10 years.
Shopping online isn’t a particularly new concept. Almost as soon as the Internet began to proliferate, we started shopping and shipping goods. Now we’ve had modern ecommerce sites like Amazon, PayPal, and eBay for over 20 years.
If you’re selling books (or anything really) and you’re not utilizing some form of ecommerce…actually I’m not sure how you would sell most things without ecommerce. Either you’re selling through a retail site that manages the ecommerce parts of the transaction, or you’re utilizing your own ecommerce tools to sell directly.
How Does Ecommerce Work?
Electronic commerce, generally referred to as ecommerce, is when a third-party platform supports transactions between a seller and a buyer.
This might seem kind of basic but bear with me a minute. Ecommerce is essentially a digital cash register. The most important aspect of ecommerce is the shopping cart (not the only aspect of course).
If you build a website, you’ve got a website. Cool. If you add a shopping cart to the website, you’ve got an online store. That is the core of ecommerce; connecting payment and fulfillment to existing websites and infrastructure.
While the idea—selling your own service or product online—is simple enough, actually starting and running an ecommerce website is a bit more complicated.
Your Book Is Your Business
Even if you publish and sell your books as a bit of passive income, that’s still a business! You have to think like an entrepreneur (or authorpreneur); your book is your product to sell.
That’s a bit of a downer for some writers, I know. Our stories are like children we’ve nurtured and watched grow. And how can we sell our child like a product on the shelf? But if you want to make money with your book, you have to think of it as a commodity.
To get us started thinking like business people, Shopify offers a 5-Point blueprint for starting an online business:
- Choose A Product
- Research & Prepare
- Set Up Your Business
The guide gives some simple and important advice we’ll reference later. But let’s start at the start: what will you sell? Since you’re reading this on a book publishing blog, I’m going to assume you either have a book you want to sell or you’re thinking about a book idea you’d like to market.
If you don’t have a book idea, but you’re still interested and excited about using ecommerce to sell books (or comic or notebooks or cookbooks or anything!), this video offers some terrific ideas:
Why Sell A Book?
If you’re an author, that heading might seem off. Why wouldn’t you sell a book? But the truth is, there is a wide range of entrepreneurs, experts, and creators who could sell a book and likely don’t even realize it.
The bigger question, the one that applies to everyone, is “why sell a book through a distributor?”
Yeah, I’m talking about Amazon, Ingram, and even Lulu. We’re all (essentially) distributors for your work. Self-publishing companies are connecting your work to an audience of readers while handling ecommerce and printing. Access to that audience and checkout cost money, in the form of a revenue cut.
For example, if you published a 100-page 6×9 paperback with Amazon and listed it for $12.00, here’s what your price breakdown would look like:
See that $3.95 on the end? That’s how much you make for each sale. The other $8 goes to the printing cost and Amazon’s coffers. Nothing wrong with this arrangement, KDP’s 60% rate isn’t the highest, but it’s not the worst either.
Now have a look at Lulu’s pricing for a similar book:
Lulu’s bookstore rates are significantly better, but there is still a cut of profit ($1.69) that goes into our pockets.
But what if you could earn all of the profit from each sale? That entire $8.46 (after deducting printing cost? That is what your own ecommerce store allows you to do. You keep all the profits.
Ecommerce Is Control
Let’s get this out of the way right here: you should sell your book on retail sites. I suggest Lulu and our Global Distribution service, but I’m biased. No matter the publisher you use, if you’re trying to maximize book sales, you do need to have your book listed on retail sites. You will get sales through those sites. Period.
I think that most entrepreneurs understand that we can’t forego retailers entirely. But with an ecommerce site, we can own our customer’s experience and create a direct connection to that customer.
If you’re not familiar with the idea of True Fans, it’s a useful concept to explore. ‘True fans’ are the people you can count on to buy almost everything you offer for sale. When you have that consistency, you can create an equation to determine how much you need to earn to meet your goals (# of true fans x $ they spend = your consistent income).
And while John Grisham might be able to cultivate true fans through retailers, the vast majority of us do not have the name-power to do so. We need to draw in our customers and turn them into fans. Checking out through Amazon is not conducive to building that relationship.
Using Ecommerce To Sell Your Book
Directly selling to your readers has a number of benefits, including:
- Building true fans
- Maximizing income
- Growing your email list
The crucial first step to becoming a self-published, indie bookseller is a website. Often called an author website, I think it’s more accurate to call it your storefront or business site. There’s no real difference, but ecommerce makes it easy to sell just about anything, so there’s no reason you need to limit yourself to just selling books.
Whatever you want to call it, your author website or retail site will be the first step in your ecommerce journey.
Building Your Author Website
Do a Google search for ‘ecommerce platforms’ and you’ll find a lot of options. More are popping up every day too. But at this point, I think there are really only three that you should seriously consider:
I’m going to focus on Shopify, but the examples hold true across any platform.
Building With Shopify
Websites are built on code languages, usually in HTML and CSS. Thankfully, tools like Shopify and WordPress give you a clean interface to use existing components. You don’t need to code a heading style or image; the platform builds these for you and you just supply the variables (text or images).
Shopify’s site builder is pretty easy to use and offers themes/customizations. If you’re thinking of using Shopify for your ecommerce, I suggest using their platform to build your site too. From there, just stick to the normal website best practices.
Adding Your Bookstore
Once you’ve got the basic site pages set up, you can use Shopify’s Products tab to create pages for your books. I suggest reviewing Shopify’s information about how to create a Product.
This video from Lulu University walks you through setting up a book specifically and covers how to upload your files to sell the book:
Print-On-Demand + Ecommerce = Profit
Lulu’s print-on-demand network can print and ship a book in thousands of formats to 150+ countries. So we thought “why not give anyone access to this network for free?”
And that’s why, when we rebuilt our website, we introduced an Open API that anyone can use to connect their site to our print network. We used our own API to build Lulu xPress for Shopify so anyone can utilize Shopify’s ecommerce platform to sell their books directly to readers.
Which brings us full circle. You—the person with a book to sell—have options. Publishing is going through a shift, brought on partly by the pandemic but largely by emerging technology.
Shopify Integration Guide
Our detailed Shopify Integration Guide will help you set up Lulu xPress and add your book files so you can start selling in no time!
For a long time, the only real option was discovery by a traditional publisher. And that option still exists (and for a small few, it’s very lucrative). Then digital printing and the ability to print-on-demand came along and companies like Amazon, Lulu, Smashwords, and others opened the door for anyone to publish.
We’re entering a new phase of publishing. Now instead of bringing your work to a platform, you can bring readers to your platform. The paradigm is shifting away from wholesale to direct retail.
It means more direct connections for you; more email addresses captured, more readers who follow you, and more opportunities to expand into their network. And it means a bigger cut of profits since you’ll be paying yourself!
Publishing Isn’t For Just For Authors
If you’ve stayed with me this far (thank you), I bet you do have a book—or a book idea—that you think you could sell. Whether that book idea is a sprawling fantasy novel or a guide to repairing Brother JP-7 Typewriter, you can publish that book and sell it.
Book Creation Guide
Our free guide to creating your book PDF files and preparing your work for publishing and printing with Lulu.
The publishing world is expanding. You don’t need to be a storyteller to have something valuable to share. To help illustrate that point, here are three indie publishers who use ecommerce to sell their books (and more) directly to their readers.
PRAISE MY PET!
Offering custom pet art and printed products, PRAISE MY PET! has an amazing collection of adult and children’s coloring books, all prominently featuring awesome pets.
My Bucket Journal
My Bucket Journal creates stunning journals to help you track your ‘bucket list’ with the intention of helping you check off those items. Their unique take on journaling and beautifully designed books place them in a great niche market for using print-on-demand.
Daily Dose Of DIY
The last example, Daily Dose of DIY offers a range of books on crafting with cricut plotter cutters. If that’s a new craft for you, don’t feel bad I had to look it up too. Luckily, Daily Dose of DIY has some great blog posts about how to use cricut methods.
What’s To Come
Most of what I’ve covered in this guide falls under the idea of ‘going wide’—as in making your book available in as many places as possible. Adding your own author website and direct sales is just ‘going wider’, though with some added benefits.
As technology and our shopping (and reading) habits continue to grow, purchasing directly from creators is becoming increasingly important. Get ready to make the most of this trend by incorporating direct sales into your marketing plan!