ChrisLands.com, then and now


Lance Christen

The story of ChrisLands.com started in 1999 when Lance Christen and Jaymes Sorbel began two years of researching the online used bookselling market. Lance, with a background in business administration, focused his research on the business aspects of the online used book market and Jaymes, with computer science experience, focused his research and work on developing a web site application specifically for selling used books.

Lance found that four internet companies dominated the online used book market in 1999 and 2000; ABEbooks.com, Alibris.com, Bibliofind.com and eBay.com. Lance found that the average seller of books on eBay was different from the average seller on ABE, Bibliofind and Alibris. The average bookseller on ABE, Bibliofind, and Alibris tended to be a more “traditional” used bookseller. Additionally, booksellers on ABE, Bibliofind, and Alibris were more likely to have been selling books (off-line and on-line) as their primary source of income.

Amazon’s purchase of Bibliofind.com, Amazon’s opening of zStores, and Amazon’s opening of Marketplace coupled with Amazon’s gigantic Internet name-recognition propelled Amazon into the used book selling market in 2001. Amazon’s purchase of Bibliofind coincided with Amazon allowing zStores and Marketplace to assimilate booksellers that were more “traditional” because Amazon provided bulk uploading options for Marketplace and zStores.

As Lance researched the business portion of the online used book market Jaymes researched the development of an online store that catered specifically to used booksellers. Jaymes found scores of services and software packages that offered general-purpose types of stores. The only services Jaymes found building book specific web sites were charging hundreds or thousands of dollars to build an online bookstore. In 1999-2001, two thousand dollars to develop an online used bookstore was not an exorbitant price. It could take a software programmer several weeks to build a store tailored to sell used books. Software programmers were building bookstores from scratch and each bookstore that was being built was a brand new creation.

Jaymes embarked on the development of software that was tailored specifically for online used bookselling but that could be easily copied and used repeatedly. It must also have the flexibility to offer booksellers the capability to edit the content, color, and character of the store making it possible for the bookseller to individualize his or her store

Jaymes’ goal was to develop bookstore software somewhat akin to how automobile manufactures build specific car models. If the Chrislands bookstores were cars, then every store that Chrislands built would have the same engine (database), the same transmission (search capability), the same axles (shopping cart), the same tires (secure checkout); everything that provided the basic power for the car (store) would be the same. However, the bookseller would be able to choose the cosmetic items of the car (store); body style (logos and graphics), exterior (store colors), interior (bookseller’s own categories and data), and options (featured items).

Since the “engine and drive train” for all Chrislands bookstores is the same, Chrislands could spread the developmental cost for the “engine and drive train” across hundreds of customers and thus make the cost affordable for each individual bookseller. In addition to spreading the cost, when upgrades to the software are added these updates are automatically applied to all stores. The design of the software also provides the bookseller ease of management in administration of the store. Chrislands wanted to build a store that was as easy to administer as it was to process orders through venues such as ABE.com.

In 2001 hackers vandalized the Bibliofind website. Amazon decided to close Bibliofind after the hacker vandalism and direct Bibliofind visitors to Amazon’s zShops and Marketplace. Amazon’s closing of Bibliofind demonstrated in a loud and clear manner that online bookselling was subject to many events beyond the individual bookseller’s control.

When Amazon closed Bibliofind, Lance and Jaymes decided it was time to launch Chrislands.com and offer online booksellers the opportunity to gain some control over their online business. Lance and Jaymes chose the name ChrisLands based upon Jaymes children’s names, Christina and Landry and thus ChrisLands.com was born.

In the day-to-day operation of Chrislands, Lance focuses on customer support and business administration while Jaymes focuses on continued software development, and technology. Lance’s dedication to ChrisLands’ customers has earned him an impeccable reputation for quick and responsive support. Jaymes provides the technical expertise to keep the server’s up and running smoothly and keeping the stores operating properly.

Since launching ChrisLands.com, Lance and Jaymes have had to make many decisions concerning the business. When making these decisions they always ask themselves “how does this benefit the bookseller and how does it help the bookseller sell more books?”

Lance receives requests almost daily for additional features and modifications to the Chrislands’ application and he records them all, but ChrisLands prioritizes these requests based upon what will help their clients most. A prime example is when Google.com made public their new site Froogle.com, ChrisLands placed other development on hold and began writing code to support uploading their clients’ items to Froogle. Why? Because Froogle uploading could help the Chrislands’ customers increase book sales.

Another decision Lance and Jaymes made early on was to use high quality computer hardware and equipment. They did not feel that it would be right for their clients to build their business on average hardware even though ChrisLands could save thousands of dollars, sometimes on each hardware item, by either building it themselves or by buying it from a local vendor. Chrislands buys their hardware from Dell.

Lance and Jaymes continue to work extremely hard, what seems like night and day, with the same dedication as always to make ChrisLands the right choice for booksellers now and far into the future.

Lance Christen is a principle of Chrislands Bookstore Service at www.chrislands.com

Copyright Ó 2004 Lance Christen

The Standard: The Journal of the Independent Online Booksellers Association

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