By Roger Tagholm
LONDON: Back in 2009 we first profiled the Book Depository, a UK-based online bookseller, about their global ambitions. So, some 18 months later, how did the Book Depository – still not a household name when it comes to bookselling –- achieve a rise in sales of more than 70% for the half year to December 2010? “If you blog it, they will come.” A paraphrase of the famous line from Field of Dreams goes some way to explain this happy situation.
“We do very well with bloggers,” says Book Depository MD Kieron Smith. “There are lots of very good book blogs out there. We don’t seem to have go and find them – they come to us and many of them now take stock feeds from us for particular subjects. They’re part of our affiliates programme, so they get a commission on sales which they’re very upfront about with their readers. We haven’t spent anything at all on above-the-line advertising, and the amount we spend on Google adwords is tiny. The Net has knocked down the old advertising barriers – it’s all about relationships now.”
But of course the viral power of the Net to spread the word only works if the company in question can deliver – and here the Book Depository clearly scores. “We make a huge amount of the fact that we have 6.2 million titles that can be dispatched within 48 hours,” says Smith. “Nobody else has that range, and we offer free postage too. Our vision is to make as many titles as possible available to as many people as possible. We’re now trading with 101 countries [you can track sales as they happen globally on a map on their website]. Eastern Europe has grown seriously, for example, and we do well in Singapore where there is an ex-pat community. We find that word gradually spreads into the local population.”
It’s worth noting too that, unlike Amazon, the Book Depository is exclusively books. Has Amazon damaged its brand by selling too much?
Smith is clearly delighted by the Book Depository’s growth -– and deserves to be. He has more than paid his dues, having worked in the UK book trade for nearly 20 years at companies ranging from WHSmith and Book Club Associates, to Ottakar’s and Waterstone’s. He helped set up the social networking site BookRabbit only to see its chief investor disappear almost immediately. “Fortunately, most of the team came with me to the Book Depository and now it’s great to be in a business that’s growing. It’s good to be selling more books -– that’s what I joined this industry to do.”