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EDITIONS
Thursday, 4 January, 2001, 12:51 GMT
I made the net pay
Nick Spurrier [Folkestone Herald photo]
Nick Spurrier: Found a way to make the net pay
It's not all doom and gloom for e-tailing. Nick Spurrier, a second-hand bookseller in Folkestone, Kent, has shut up shop because selling his hard-to-find books on economics and politics online is so much more lucrative.

I really loved having a bookshop but the economics of owning it just didn't add up.

I was paying someone 40 a day to work in the shop, but I wasn't taking more than 100 a day.


The internet is made for second-hand books, more than any other product

At the same time, from the internet, I was making at least 1,000 a week.

Trading online means that my books are now available to virtually anyone, all over the world.

And I've always sold by mail order to some customers in Japan and America. But now I have customers in 52 different countries.

The number of customers has almost trebled since I went online, from about 1,200 to 3,300. Some of these are one-offs, but many become repeat customers.

manifesto
Who will buy?
One of the main reasons I shut up shop was because I wanted to concentrate on the online side of the business - the shop was distracting me, I couldn't cope with both.

There's a lot of potential in online trading, but it takes time.

When you're in a rush, replying to e-mails without adding any extra information, you can't build up a relationship with the customer.

Because people can't tell everything about the book they want to buy, I get some really weird queries. Twice I've been asked if the book smells, both times by Americans.

Best for books

The internet is made for second-hand books, more than any other product, because 99% of them are out of print all the time.

Tory leader William Hague
"I'll give you 6 for it"
Now you can find books that you could never dream of finding before. I'm contacted by customers astounded that I've found the books they've been searching for for 20 years.

People don't want to pay more than 3 or 4 in a shop. But on the internet they'll pay that much more because they're looking for a specific book.

Online, I wouldn't charge less than 14 for a hardback, 8 for a paperback and about 6 for a pamphlet.

Even the Conservative Party manifesto from 1983 - I wouldn't put that on for less than 6 because it's just not worth my while. But if you charged 6 for it in a shop, customers would think you'd gone around the bend.

With second-hand books, you can sell almost everything you get. No matter how boring it is, someone somewhere in the world will be looking for it. But you've got to communicate it to them that you've got it - and you couldn't do that before.

Pleasure of browsing

There are 100,000 titles printed each year in this country alone, yet the average bookshop contains about 20,000 books at the most. The chances of finding the book you're looking for is pretty near impossible.


No matter how boring it is, someone somewhere in the world will be looking for it

The internet isn't going to do away with bookshops altogether, because people will always want to browse through them, to look for books they didn't know existed.

And there is a flipside. One university, for whom we were finding all these out-of-print books, ran out of money.

My former assistant, Jackie, used to spend all day tracking down books for them - until they couldn't afford to buy anymore. I had to make her redundant.

Photo courtesy Folkestone Herald



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03 Jan 01 | Business
15 Dec 00 | Review
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