AE Monthly

Articles - December - 2004 Issue

A New Search Engine (And Why You Should Care)

1204a7

The beta (test) version of the new MSN search


By Michael Stillman

There's a new search engine on the block. Some of you will be saying, "who is it?" Others will say, "why should I care? Isn't this a site about books?" This is addressed to the former. Those who do not see the connection are probably deeply rooted in the past, living in the present, and not seeing the future. Online sales, or at least online introductions, are an important and growing part of the book business. And, online bookselling is quickly requiring more than having your books listed on an online site, with thousands of other booksellers. Those who take charge of their own futures are the ones most likely to prosper. That's why you need to keep up with what is going on around you.

This is not to demean the importance of the online bookselling sites. They are a great place to sell books. They place your books in front of millions of eyes all around the world, potential buyers who otherwise never would have seen what you have to offer. They build sales. However, they do not build relationships. You can sell your books, but they make it hard to sell yourself. In fact, they would just as soon you remain anonymous, hidden behind their own brand name. You are almost like the companies which manufacture the products Wal-Mart slaps their house brand on. Who are these people, anyway?

Is there a problem with this? Not necessarily. As long as you have a mutually beneficial relationship with your retailer, be it Wal-Mart or Abe, Target or Amazon, these can be profitable ventures for all involved. The way these sites bring millions of listings from all over the world together is of enormous convenience to the buyer. You can expect they will continue to sell millions of books for people like you for many years to come.

However, this does leave a couple of gaps in the way you are able to conduct business. As an anonymous, or virtually anonymous seller, you are not able to build relationships with your customers. "Relationship," of course, is a synonym for "repeat business." Repeat sales to established customers has long been the backbone of the bookselling business. Now in the internet era, it may not be quite as important, but it is hardly unimportant if you are looking to build a successful business. The other issue with the internet sites is that you have no way to make your business stand out. The most successful booksellers have traditionally had their own styles, their own personalities, their own specialties; something to make them stand out. The anonymous seller behind the Amazon listing has none of this, and the smartest, most knowledgeable bookseller behind the Amazon listing looks no different from the dumbest one. One of the greatest keys to success is standing out from the crowd. The book sites make that difficult.

AE Monthly


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