As someone who launched a successful online bookstore, I’m often asked what it really takes to start selling books on the Internet. How can you build a profitable book business completely online?
Drawing from my own firsthand experience going from zero to fully up and running, I’m in a unique position to provide a step-by-step guide to starting a bookstore online.
In this guide, I’ll share exactly how I got started, along with the tools, platforms, and strategies needed to launch and grow an online book retail operation from scratch.
If you have a passion for books and are interested in the freedom of selling them on your own terms, you’re probably wondering: Where do I begin? What essential steps should I take to get my online bookstore off the ground?
I’ll walk you through the key foundations like setting up shop, sourcing inventory, marketing your stock, and automating the order fulfillment process.
What do You need to Start Selling Books?
Once you have decided on the type of bookstore you want to create, you need to work on some fundamentals before you start. Here’s what you will need before you start:
Decide Your Niche
When you choose to sell books online, it is important to select a niche so you can target a specific audience. You can find many book niches on the internet, and every niche has its own advantages. Let’s have a look at a few popular book niches:
- Genre Fiction: Genre fiction is the category that people love the most. This type of book has a populist appeal and more mainstream than literary fiction. Genre fiction includes genres such as horror, romance, mystery, fantasy, thriller, etc.
- General Fiction: In this type of category, you will find writings and novels that don’t fit into any specific category. It can carry more than one genre and focuses on people’s everyday experiences.
- Non-Fiction: These types of books are literature that has a primary goal: to provide information about the world and facts. This category covers a huge range of subjects, from history to self-help.
- Children’s Books: These types of books have always been in demand. In fact, these books cover a huge portion of the book market. Selling children’s books is easier than other niches as you have to target parents and grandparents.
After selecting a niche for your business, you must think about your branding. A strong brand affects book readers differently, and it also helps you retain your customers. And you also need to set up a memorable name for your bookstore. You choose a cool, short name for your store that defines your niche or style.
A Source for Your Inventory
Whether you run a physical store or an online store, you will need to source books often to keep your inventory in check. Here are some options from where you can source books for your online store:
- Purchase from Publishers: One of the easiest ways to source books of your niche is by purchasing directly from publishers or distributors. However, publishers usually sell their books at a higher price, so you can negotiate your prices by purchasing in bulk.
- Wholesalers: A book wholesaler sells huge quantities of books and novels at a discounted price. You can find popular books in your niche at cut-rate prices. It can be a viable choice if you have a lot of space in your inventory. As your business grows, you can look for bigger options.
- Online Retailers: Sourcing books from online retailers can be an expensive choice, but you will get a much wider selection of books and novels. However, it depends on your research. If you search thoroughly, you will find retailers with great prices.
Tracking Your Inventory
Once you have collected books for your inventory, you need to manage them to keep track of the book titles.
You can find inventory management software to keep track of your inventory and online store as well. Or, if you significantly want to track your books, you can look for tracking systems that track books only.
How Many Types of Online Bookstores Can You Start?
There are three different types of online bookstores you can choose to start. You can either take one type to start, or you can use all three types of bookstores to sell books. Here I have explained all three types in detail below:
- New Bookstore: This type of bookstore focuses on selling only new books that are getting printed. To start this type of bookstore, you need to invest heavily because most of the types, you deal with the publishers and have to pay for the books in advance to maintain your inventory. You also need to find which type of genre most users are interested in buying; otherwise, you’ll lose money quickly with this type of store.
- eBook Bookstore: In this type of bookstore, you will be selling digital versions of physical books, which users can download on any device they want and read them anywhere from their devices. eBooks are becoming popular and preferred over physical books, so it would be the best option for you to start an ebook bookstore, and it also costs less than the other two types of bookstores.
- Used Bookstore: In this type of bookstore, you need to sell used books, and it is the easiest way to start an online bookstore and start selling books. You can get used books at book fairs, garage sales, and eCommerce platforms. You also don’t need to spend that much to acquire these books, and you can also sell them at a good profit if the books are in good condition.
Steps On How To Start A Bookstore Online In 2023
Starting a successful online bookstore requires several steps, including researching how bookstores work, choosing a niche, establishing a store, sourcing books, and marketing. I have summarized all these exact steps below to help you understand the process of starting an online book store.
1. Do thorough Research On Bookstore Business
Having complete industry knowledge is essential when starting any business. Visit local bookstores and understand their operations, inventory, in-demand niche, etc. It helps you get an overview of the industry.
Meet the successful bookstore owners and discuss the book industry in-depth. Understand the main success factors and what works and does not work in the industry. It helps you develop a practical understanding of how the bookstore works.
Try to meet avid readers from different niches and discuss the problems they face in buying books. You can understand the weak spots of the book business and build your business around solving these problems.
Considering all these steps can help you determine where there is a need for progression in the bookstore industry.
2. Pick A Niche
After researching Bookstore Business, Picking a niche is a tricky decision.
The book industry is quite competitive. Therefore you should be selective when choosing a niche. Sell the demanded books that are difficult to find everywhere. You can provide your customers with a wonderful shopping experience through fast shipping and branding strategies.
Pick one niche and serve a particular group of readers and gain trust. So many book lovers have particular interests in Crime, Fairy tales, fables, folk tales, Fantasy, Historical fiction, Horror, etc. Identify which category of books are challenging to buy, then select your niche accordingly.
3. Choose a Trustworthy Book Sourcing
There are various ways to sell books online. Some of them are self-publishing, used books, selling ebooks, audiobooks, subscription-based ebooks, etc. You can choose as per your interest and demand in the market.
When opening a bookstore, it is necessary to choose a Distributor, wholesaler, or publishers to source your books. Make sure you choose a trustworthy supplier so that you can have the chance of getting discounts or other benefits. Building a healthy relationship with your supplier is crucial to long-term growth. It is important to note that working with a single supplier can help you easily manage the process.
4. Create Your Online Store
Creating a good-looking and user-friendly online store is the most important to attract customers. There are multiple online store-building platforms in the market to make your work easier without knowing the technical skills. Some of them are Shopify, BigCommerce, Wix, Weebly, WooCommerce, Squarespace, etc.
You can create a website with a few simple steps by yourself or hire a website designer. Choose a suitable theme and design all the required pages. Add all the products with proper details like image, price, author, number of pages, etc. After adding the products, add the shipping and payment gateway details according to your requirements. Now your online bookstore is live to ship the books.
5. Market Your Online Book Store
The online bookstore market was worth USD 17.7 billion in 2019 and is estimated to grow 5.8% from 2020 to 2027 worldwide. So, now is the best time to level up the idea of the online book store.
(Image- Grand View Research)
Getting sales and growing your business depends on marketing, which is fundamental to every business. It would be best if you kept yourself updated on digital marketing strategies to make the business successful.
You can use a variety of marketing methods. Some popular ones are Search Engine Optimization, Blogging, Paid ads, Social Media, Email Marketing, Affiliate Marketing, etc. But you can start with the effective ones in the online bookstore business.
The best way to start with no investment is by creating social media handles for the bookstore. You can share industry knowledge to attract people of the same taste. It helps you build a community of like-minded people.
Email marketing is a great way to make your target audience aware of your brand. You can create a weekly or bi-monthly newsletter to stay connected with your existing audience. You can also send alerts during the sale season, discounts, or coupon codes. It helps to grab the audience’s attention immediately.
SEO is the best marketing practice for people who is looking for a one-time investment and recurring sales. You can optimize your website according to SEO best practices to get maximum traffic to your store. It involves optimizing websites using proper keyword usage in home pages, product pages, blog URLs, etc.
Blogging is one of the best organic practices to drive traffic to your website. You can educate your target audience with information about valuable knowledge allowing them to explore your online store.
You can also use marketing methods like Affiliate marketing, paid ads, SMS marketing, etc. It can help to attract customers by educating them and creating awareness about your business.
A Few Practical Examples
Here are some of the inspirations you can take from some of the online bookstores which have started in recent years. It helps you understand their journey and make yours better.
The Painted Porch
The Painted Porch is an online bookstore started by Ryan Holiday. They had no idea about the business when they started during the pandemic but they figured out the steps to make it successful. Additionally, they use a variety of marketing approaches to sell their books, including podcasts, social media, community development, etc.
Along with the online business, they also operate a unique physical store in Bastrop, Texas. It is built from the inspiration of well-known bookshops. The Painted Porch is now one of the top-rated online bookstores with various types of audiences. They also have a youtube channel called Daily Stoic, with 739K subscribers, where you can get most of their ideas.
Danica Sommerfeldt started Coastal Bookstore in Coquitlam, BC in 2020. Even though she was not confident about how the business worked, she strived hard to make it the best bookstore, and it went well. Danica believes in catering to different audiences according to the demand in the market. It leads to growth in the business.
She mentions that she will spend more time researching and understanding the audience’s expectations. Along with books, they sell other products like puzzles, candles, gifts, local art, and over 40 varieties of artisan chocolate. Coastal Bookstore mainly emphasizes on Canadian content and diverse representation to attract Canadian book lovers.
These two recently opened online stores have grown gradually by catering to the right audience.
Here are links to some of the top bookstores you can take inspiration.
Final Takeaways: How To Start A Bookstore Online (2023)
When you decide to start your first online Bookstore, it is not going to be the easiest journey. But you can make it work by believing in your business and following all the steps discussed in the article. Focus on providing value for your customers by providing unique and rare books with amazing shopping experiences. It will help your store get identified and stay in customers’ heads for the next purchase. This is our final take on How To Start A Bookstore Online. I hope this article was useful in knowing all the steps needed while starting an online book store.
Yes, there is plenty of demand for online bookstores. Not everyone can buy their favorite books offline, so they go online to find them, and that’s when these online bookstores come in handy.
Yes, it is beneficial to start an online bookstore. You can work on your store from home and reach a large audience from there. You don’t need to go out to make your bookstore successful.
The biggest challenge of starting any business is investing your money and time in the business. If you don’t invest much into the business, then it will not go anywhere. You also need to market your bookstore properly to reach the targeted audience.
The cost completely depends on you, like on which platform you want to create your online bookstore and how much inventory you want to carry. You can get started with a few hundred dollars or spend thousands of dollars, and it completely depends on you.
Yes, you can start an online bookstore with almost no money, but it will take you much longer to start receiving any revenue from it, and you will need to put in a lot of effort as well.