Booksellers who were in the business since the post-independence era have had to pull shutters down on their offline stores, and several offline bazaars and markets that once thronged with book lovers are now empty.
But, that is not bringing down their spirits and a lot of these book businesses have been learning how to sell books online.
In this guide, we’ll explore how you can start a book business online from scratch. We’ll also share tips on how to market your bookstore online along with stories of real business owners who are selling books online successfully. If you have an offline bookstore, you can use tips to kickstart its eCommerce journey.
Let’s dive in.
Why sell books online
Despite the advent of e-books, books are still very popular. A billion-dollar market, the online sales of books are projected to increase in the coming years. So, it’s a good idea to start selling books online — whether starting a business from scratch or taking your bookstore online.
On an average, books have a profit margin of 30%. This number can go upto 60%, depending on how much stock you order in bulk from the supplier. Being a product with a longer shelf life (pun intended), starting a bookstore online can reap huge profits. The only disadvantage is that you’ll need significant storage space for the books.
Along with all these benefits, there is also the added advantage of easy supply — it’s relatively easier to find suppliers for books.
How to sell books online: the complete guide
What kind of books can you sell online?
There are so many categories to choose from when it comes to selling books. You can niche down and sell only one genre of books — like fantasy — or start an online bookstore with every kind of book.
If you’re wondering what they most popular categories are for books, here are some stats to help you out: according to a report, the most popular category of books on Amazon are Memoirs and Biographies, Self Help, Religion and Spirituality, Health, Fitness and Dieting, and Politics. Romance and crime make up the most popular sub-genres.
Selling used books online, also known as “Pre-loved books” is also a great option because many shoppers look for cheaper options when buying books online. You can source old books, bargain a price, and sell them on your online bookstore.
Another less explored way of starting an eCommerce book business is creating a subscription-based model for book lovers.
Champaca, a popular bookstore in Bangalore, set up a subscription-based model for their loyal customers who do not have too much time to browse through their collections. The store will pack and deliver a set of books, based on the customers choice, monthly, quarterly and yearly. This ensures customer loyalty, ensures feedback and helps reach out to new buyers too.
Preparing books for sale: photographs and descriptions
Once you have decided which books to sell online, you need to prep them for selling online. As a bookstore, you’re competing with giant e-marketplaces where many people shop. So, you need to make sure that you’re well prepared before making your leap into eCommerce.
You don’t have to go over the top when it comes to product photographs of books. A simple image of the cover would do. Still, make sure that the resolution is good enough because many shoppers base their purchase decision on product images.
Here are some inspiration for product photographs for book product pages:
Your product descriptions can make or break your online business — this is something many business owners don’t realise. Having good products is not enough to get customers online. You need to put up detailed product descriptions for each book you are selling. Here’s what product descriptions for books can include:
- Synopsis of the book
- Author credentials and publication
- Dimensions and weight
- Format (Hardback/Paperback)
Product descriptions will help you get discovered on search engine results (SEO) when shoppers search for a particular book.
Create an online store
With your own online store, you can list books easily, collect orders and payments securely, and ship them — all in one place. You’ll also get the potential to be featured on Google shopping snippet. An online store will get your bookstore out into the world and bring in more customers.
Sapphirebooks sells books online on their eCommerce website which they created using Instamojo store builder:
You don’t have to be a full-time business to sell books online with Instamojo. Starting an online store on Instamojo just takes a few steps. And you don’t need any coding skills to get started. Start by signing up (for free) with your email id and add the details of your store like business name and category. Then, start adding product images you have created along with description.
Here’s a short video to help you get started with creating an online bookstore:
Packaging and shipping
Packaging products is an essential part of any eCommerce business. You can either opt for a basic packaging — brown box and tape — or you can go over the top with gorgeous packaging with branded boxes and customised messages.
Here’s how TheBigBookBox send out their monthly book boxes for their subscribed members:
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You can also opt for eco-friendly packaging. Here’s a blog to give you some ideas on product packaging for eCommerce.
When it comes to shipping, you’ll need to expect a significant expense. For starters, you can partner with a shipping service based on your needs. Here’s a guide to get you started with eCommerce shipping.
How to market your online bookstore
Book lovers and readers in the country will work towards supporting their local stores over corporate giants – all you need to do is tell them!
Create a social media profile to sell books online
Over 45% of booksellers in the country have shifted to an online platform since the pandemic, with almost every business setting up an Instagram and Facebook page. Blossom book house, a beloved old-time bookstore in Bangalore, has taken their business online, even though the shutters have opened on a lot of stores.
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Once they set up in May this year, since lockdown commenced, the bookstore has gained over 2,300 followers on their social media. They take orders via WhatsApp and DM and constantly engage their customers online with –
- Regular updates on their store inventory, new book releases coming in
- Customer stories, reposting reviews from customers
- Offering reading tips, ideas, and hacks
- Announcing giveaways, author snippets, and meet-ups
Social media is the best way for any bookstore to sell books online and keep customers engaged. ‘The Bookshop’ – an independent bookstore in Jor Bagh market, Delhi, constantly uploads stories on their Instagram to keep customers interested in their collections. Here is their recent one.
What are some of the best ways to engage your customers on social media so that they place more orders? Find out with our ebook – How to sell on social media
How to create customer demand for buying books online
Keep in touch with your customers. Loyalty is a powerful tool that every bookstore in India can rely on. Most customers miss spending hours in their favourite bookshops, especially the ones they remember from their childhood, or a weekend stroll.
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Keeping networks with other offline sellers
If you decide to sell books online, you need to maintain networks offline too – with both customers and other buyers. The best way to do this is to contact thrift stores and offline sellers for brand collaborations. Keep an eye out for what other booksellers are doing, as this will help you connect with third-party marketplaces that help you sell old books, new books, and second-hand books online.
Related Read: A comprehensive guide on networking for small business owners
Discounting ideas during seasons
Do not pile up books on your shelves right now. The best way to keep shelves clear is to clear off old inventory with giveaways online using social media. Some of the best ways to offer discounts to your customers are –
- A buy 1 get 1 offer on classics – book bundles
- An online quiz announcing flat 40% off on selected categories of books
- Clearance sale offers on second-hand books or old books
- Referral codes – here’s how referral codes work on a website
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Bonus – Go digital with books, here is how you can sell ebooks on Instamojo
Since you have begun to sell books online, why not sell ebooks too! If you are an independent business looking to start selling digital books, you can start on Instamojo. Our detailed definitive guide will help you upload your first ebook on our platform and start selling it to customers. Read our full blog on How to sell ebooks online.
A study showed that Indians have consumed more digital books than physical books in the past 1 year, so if you are considering selling an ebook, now is a good time. GC Mouli, a writer and product leader published his first novel ‘The Son of Cauvery‘ by uploading the entire book online on Instamojo’s online store for customers to read.
Ready to start your online bookstore?
An online book business has limitless potential in 2022 and beyond.
So, take the first and create your online store. On Instamojo, you can get started for free and start selling books online at minimal costs.