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To many, 2020 felt more like a decade than a year, packed with turbulent events that transformed our daily lives and brought sweeping changes that have affected all manner of industries. One of the most significant of these changes was that, over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have spent more time, and money, online than ever before. For publishing, this has accelerated already emerging trends in the digital side of the industry – trends which have brought about new (and often unexpected) opportunities for independent authors and booksellers that would not have been achievable just a decade ago.
E-Commerce for Independent Authors
Some of the most significant digital trends in the publishing world today concern e-commerce. With recent developments over the past few years, there are now more e-commerce tools available to independent authors than ever before, giving them a vast range of options for getting their books to their readers more easily.
When thinking about the best platforms for selling books online, one’s mind immediately goes to Amazon, due to its enormous, global reach and its status as readers’ go-to online retailer, especially for e-books. But Amazon is no longer the only viable channel available. Today there are other platforms gaining popularity among authors for their fairer terms and innovative approaches to selling online. One of these is Shopify, an e-commerce platform that hosts online storefronts created by independent sellers. An author can build their own webstore through Shopify and customise the design to fit their personal brand.
Although one of the primary benefits of Amazon is that it boasts a huge, pre-existing customer base to tap into, this comes in exchange for taking a percentage of each sale made on its site. Shopify, in contrast, does not take a cut each time an author’s book sells. Instead, it charges a monthly subscription fee for hosting one’s storefront – meaning that no matter how many books an author sells through Shopify, the cost to them will remain the same, and if the book is successful then the author can potentially make a greater profit this way.
Selling Directly to Customers
There are many digital tools now available that can help an author bypass third-party channels altogether. With such tools, an author is empowered to sell their books directly to customers through their personal website, in addition to utilising platforms such as Amazon, Shopify and others.
Some website builders like WordPress offer various plug-ins that an author can use on their website to make direct sales. One example is WooCommerce, an open-source plug-in that provides a wide range of features including secure payment options and order fulfilment tools.
Selling books directly from a personal website gives the author greater access to valuable data about their customers. While some third-party platforms may only provide certain pieces of sales data or basic summaries, direct sales via a personal website can provide much more detailed insights into customers, such as where they are in the world, how they discovered the website, and, importantly, their email addresses. An independent author can make great use of this data to enhance their marketing strategy and build their list of email marketing recipients. Another benefit of direct selling is that the author is able to keep all of the profit. Amazon and many other online retailers take a certain percentage of every sale made on their platforms, but selling direct avoids this altogether.
E-Commerce for Independent Bookshops
The development of e-commerce platforms and tools has made reaching customers easier not only for independent authors, but also for independent bookshops. Bookshops too can utilise these innovations to set up a successful online store in conjunction with their bricks-and-mortar location. Never has this been more important than during the COVID-19 pandemic. With physical shops barred from opening, many shop owners have turned to selling online. Luckily, the tools are available to ease the process of digital migration.
Perhaps one of the most revolutionary e-commerce developments to emerge within the publishing world in 2020 was Bookshop.org. Created with the aim of uniting independent bookshops to wrest back some of Amazon’s gargantuan market share, Bookshop.org provides a centralised platform for independent bookshops to set up their own online storefronts. What distinguishes Bookshop.org is that a percentage of every sale is shared among all partnered bookshops.
Created by Andy Hunter, Bookshop.org was first launched in the US in January 2020, and its overnight popularity led to its early launch in the UK, in November 2020. To date it has raised hundreds of thousands of pounds for UK bookshops, and several million dollars for US bookshops.
The pandemic has accelerated the development of many digital trends in publishing, posing formidable challenges but also prompting the exploration of exciting new opportunities in e-commerce. Luckily there is a wide range of options available for both independent authors and booksellers to adapt and succeed during this unusual time in history.