Bookthink's Facebook Editor Suggests a Revolution and Interviews Thatcher Wine of Juniper Books

by Kristian Strom

25 July 2011

A Review

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Be remarkable.

For the past month, I have been carrying around the collected works of Seth Godin, my favorite author on all things marketing related. In 1999, Godin coined the term "Permission Marketing" in his breakthrough text for e-commerce entrepreneurs. The book revolves around the idea that you should turn customers into friends and then develop relationships with those friends which, will eventually generate repeat sales, assuming you are able to create a Purple Cow ... huh? The pervasive online marketing technique at the time was to make the sale, obtain the customer's email address, and then proceed to fill the customer's inbox with spam, thereby eliminating any chance your business had of turning that buyer into a long-term fan.

Since the publication of this book, Godin has gone on to write no less than ten other fantastic marketing books. His blog here is one of the most essential sources of inspiration for entrepreneurs, and reading it has been a part of my daily routine for several years. In addition to all of his writing projects, he is also a co-founder of Squidoo and is spearheading something called "The Domino Project" on Amazon.

Enough about the man for now; let's get back to what this is all about. This month's Selling on Amazon article is all about finding your Purple Cow, or the thing that makes your business remarkable - something people consider worth talking about.

Before I continue, let me take a few steps back. While being or becoming remarkable is essential for growth and fulfillment, I would like to make it clear that it's probably not a bad idea to have a handle on the basics (The Fundamentals of Successful Bookselling, if you will) before you spend too much time and effort reinventing the wheel.

How are your books packaged? Are you still sending antiquarian books out the door in a flimsy bubble wrap mailer? If so, take a look at these BookThink articles before worrying about your Purple Cow:

Shipping Solutions for Booksellers: How to Build Your Own Boxes

Shipping Solutions for Booksellers: The New Multi-D Box

Big Savings with Multi-D: Cutting Boxes While Cutting Profit

How are your descriptions? Do you commonly include descriptions like, "May have general shelf wear; otherwise in good condition"? Maybe you should take a look at several catalogues of professional booksellers, or take a look at the catalogue of the recently featured Biblioctopus. I'm not suggesting that you spend half an hour describing a $15 book, but anything you can do to encourage the habit of building professionalism and knowledge into your descriptions is well worth the effort.

How about customer service? Do you go above and beyond what is required of every ethical bookseller to resolve every issue with every order, even the ones that aren't your fault? Do you have a proactive way of dealing with dissatisfied emails and negative feedback (Gmail users be sure to investigate the "Canned Responses" feature), or do you simply react, ignore, or even worse, harass those sometimes hasty customers who may not understand how the feedback system works on Amazon? How many of you have received a 1 out of 5 for a customer who didn't enjoy reading the book? I know I have, and I know that a simple and friendly form letter/email to the customer provided an immediate remedy to the situation.

Are you focused on obtaining quality inventory and raising your average selling price? Or do you prefer to offer cheap books at the lowest possible price, in any condition, from every subject matter under the sun? Well, this actually sounds like my business model for the first five years I was in business. I am the first to admit my flaws and shortcomings as a bookseller, and I would like to share a few of these with those booksellers who may be new to the business to demonstrate what not to do. What doesn't work for me may work for you, and this flawed business model still did allow me to grow sales five years straight, but I guarantee that if I were to have stayed the course, sales would have eventually dried up and I would be back at the furniture store selling area rugs and seven piece living room sets.

When I started selling books online as a hobby at the beginning of the century (I know, makes me sound older and more established), I remember the excitement of brainstorming what my brand would be. This was before I ever knew what any of the established booksellers names sounded like - Bauman's, Heritage, Tavistock, Powell's ... all very strong and proper sounding names, aren't they?. Eventually, I settled on the name which I have stuck with to this day, which has never failed to make me cringe when mentioning it to other professional booksellers: Lowestcostbooks.

Yes readers, I am ashamed to admit that this is my Amazon seller name and the web address where you can find my inventory. My problem with it is obvious:

  • It's very generic.
  • It says nothing about what I do, which is sell rare and unusual books, some of which go for less than a "low" price tag. I am rarely the lowest priced seller on any of my collectible inventory on Amazon.
  • It is not a very bookish sounding name, or one that would appeal to my ideal clientele, but worst of all ...
  • Any business that differentiates itself by trying to be "a little cheaper" or "a little more efficient" is doomed. Period. I stole this idea from Godin, and I'm sure he stole it from someone else, but I figured I'd give him credit.

You see, early on in bookselling, I noticed that repricing my inventory to offer the lowest price, or first to be displayed on Amazon results, would typically result in an immediate boost in sales. My model soon became: acquire, list, sell a bunch, reprice, sell a few more, reprice again, sell one or two more, reprice, no more sales from that batch, watch stale inventory accumulate on the shelf. I continued this process for several years until I started to notice that I could never beat "BetterWorldBooks" or "Goodwill_insert-city-here" or any of the other megalisters and pennysellers out there. Add to that, a few years ago, when FBA began, sellers using Amazon's fulfillment service began showing up first, and I knew that my model was flawed.

So I did what any booklover does when they are in a rut. I read. I reread every Seth Godin book on my shelf, and a few BookThink articles, and I started getting ideas. Lots of ideas. So many ideas that my head was bursting with them, and I was excited to call myself a bookseller again (but still not excited to plug my website). Just last week, I finally decided on a more appropriate new brand for my business, along with a redesign of my website, which I hope to unveil by the end of 2011.

I would like to stop discussing my own half-brained business model for the remainder of this article to take a look at a bookseller who is doing something which I would certainly classify as remarkable, even if he doesn't admit to it. If his recent write-up in the New York Times is not enough proof to confirm this, taking a brief look at his website should do the trick.

Thatcher Wine is a young bookseller from Denver, Colorado who somehow flew under my radar until recently. With a background in corporate America, Thatcher broke into the world of bookselling in 2001 and has been busy at one of his many projects ever since. His specialty? Building Christmas Trees out of books. Ok, not really, but he did do that. Thatcher also helps create and stock home libraries for affluent clients. Equal parts interior-designer and bibliophile, Thatcher has an impressive resume that includes mentions in several national magazines, newspapers and popular design websites. You can catch a glimpse of some of the positive press Thatcher has received here. I had a chance to ask Thatcher a few questions via email, which he graciously took time to answer and which I am glad to provide for the entertainment and benefit of the readership:

Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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