Selling Stuff On-Line

17th January 2003

Note: This article is a lightly hacked version of a message that I originally sent to the Internet Writing Workshop at www.manistee.com/~lkraus/workshop at Fri, 17 Jan 2003 14:49:01 +0000.

For all of you out there who are publishing your own books, I'd like to offer some crumbs of my experience in trying to work out how best to sell stuff on-line. My own experience is with selling Child's Play, a CD that my wife arranged and recorded, rather than a book that I wrote; but the same issues pertain.

Here was my situation. I already have a bare-bones but perfectly adequate web-site about the product. We hold a stock of about 250 copies that we want to sell on-line. They're going for 6 (a bit less than $10 US), so I can't afford to pay a big up-front or monthly fee. I want to be able to take credit-card payments, which means that so far as possible I want to use a widely-trusted name for the transaction. And I want to be able to sell abroad, because I have quite a few Internet friends in America and elsewhere. So I need currency conversion.

My first idea was to go with peoplesound.com but they turned out to be a lot more expensive than I'd anticipated. (I won't go into detail since they are CD-only, and I want to stay on topic.)

Next up, Amazon. Because I'm English, I want to to use Amazon.co.uk in preference to Amazon.com; so some of what I am about to say about Amazon may not be true in the US. But I found a bewildering variety of options: there's Amazon Advantage, Amazon Marketplace, Amazon Zshops, Amazon Auctions and no doubt others, all underpinned by Amazon Payments.

Well, it turns out that none of them is suitable for my needs:

So I was sad to give up on Amazon because of their excellent brand recognition, but they are just not set up for small sellers like me (and I guess like many of us).

My next thought was to use PayPal - not such good brand recognition as Amazon, but widely known. Plus I'd already used it successfully to pay an American artist for some artwork that I want to use in a dinosaur book, so I knew it was good for international transfers.

It turns out - so far as I can tell - that this is The Right Answer. It was very easy to add a ``buy this with PayPal'' button to my site: I was guided through the process by the set of pages on their site. The result can be seen on the Child's Play page at www.pipedreaming.org.uk/childsplay. It was straightforward to add the P&P charges, and - best of all for the way we're doing things - there is no up-front fee and a smallish handling fee that works out at about 40p (about 65c US) per CD.

For buyers, the process is very straightforward if they're already PayPal members. For those who are not, they are guided through the sign-up procedure, which is pretty painless. So I don't think I'll lose many sales through process clumsiness. When a sale is made, PayPal emails me with the details, and I pop the CDs in the post.

Finally, there's the matter of free samples. From a CD of 18 shortish tracks, we elected to give away free MP3s of four of the songs. I figure that anyone who listens to them and doesn't like any of them won't like the CD anyway, so there's no point in their buying it. And I'm also guessing that no-one who does like them will think ``Well, then, I'll just keep these four freebies and never hear the rest of it.'' Not for the sake of saving six quid.

So that's my experience. I hope it's useful to some of you with books to sell. (And I hope you all buy lots of CDs, of course.) If this has ended up sounding like a critique of Amazon or an advert for PayPal, neither is what I intended - that's just what emerged from my response to the services those two companies offer.

Thanks for listening.

Feedback to <mike@miketaylor.org.uk> is welcome!