The first question should be “do you need a website at all?” And the answer, truthfully, is no. You can get along quite well without one. Will it help you sell books? Yes. Especially if you have a very specialized inventory. But you’ll have to weigh the costs carefully. Not just the monetary costs, but the amount of time you’ll spend building it (or communicating with your designer), and the time spent maintaining it.
There are a number of ways to set up a website. You can use it simply as a business card, with all your contact information listed, and a short writeup about your business. Link to your inventory on one of the databases, or your auctions and you have a viable website. This is definitely the best option for small dealers with a general inventory. This type of site can be set up on one of the free hosting sites to save the monthly fees. ABE offers free space to any bookseller who wants it – even if they are not members. There are many other free hosting sites. Try entering “free web hosting” at the google search engine. Just the fact that you have gone to the trouble of setting up a website gives you slightly more credibility with buyers.
You can set up and maintain catalogues using an html editor, and upload changes every few days. You don’t need a secure server or order form. Just ask customers to email or call with orders. Plenty of booksellers have done this successfully. It gives the closest approximation to the traditional bookseller’s catalogue. But, it’s time consuming to maintain static catalogues. And over time you’ll likely get slower and slower with your maintenance (unless you’re a good deal more disciplined than I am…)
A static catalogue with a shopping cart and secure server. Generally I’d consider this the worst of both worlds for a bookseller. It’s more time consuming than a plain catalogue (you have to add the custom shopping cart tags to every book listing), and it will cost you more to have it set up – probably as much as a full database shopping cart system. You need to be on a web host that has a secure server and cgi-bin access.
A searchable database, shopping cart, and secure order form. The easiest to maintain (you just upload your database whenever you want to add or remove titles), and the most expensive. Also the easiest for your customer to use. The range is $500.00 and up to anything you can imagine.
There is NO simple, easy way for a beginner to install a fully operational database shopping cart/secure order system on a website. There are plenty of easy static catalogue shopping carts – some are available as part of your hosting package (though all will require some extended data entry, and are more work than I’d care to take on). Most have a limit of 500 or fewer entries.
However, it is possible to do a small cheat, and use your Bibliofind or your ABE listings on your own site. It’s easy to do, even for beginners, but the drawback is that eventually your customer ends up going to that site to order.
Bibliofind: Go to your dealer maintenance pages. Click on “My Home Page”. Now click on “Our Search Form”. In your browser click on the dropdown menu “view” then “source”. Now select exactly the same area that you see in the window below (the code in the window is for my Bibliofind listings)
Just paste this into your website wherever you want the search form. You can modify it quite a bit, just make sure you leave all the form tags alone.
ABE: Go to http://dogbert.abebooks.com/abe/ClientQuickList . Search for your business name. Click on Search their inventory by author, title, publisher and keywords. Now look at the URL in your browser address line for the number right at the end… vci=250 for example. That number identifies your business. Paste this code into your website, but change this line
INPUT TYPE=hidden NAME=vci VALUE=”250″ to show the vci number identifying your store.
Undoubtedly this can be done with the other database sites as well. I know it can be done with Antiqbook, and likely with BookAvenue. Each one will be slightly different.
Oh, and one more thing… if you build it, they won’t just come. You have to submit your site to the search engines. I suggest that you use SelfPromotion.com It’s free. If you’re pleased with the results, you can contribute something to the cause. It’s a shareware website tool.