General

Running a online tamil book store…

Prior 2011, Chennaishopping.com was basically a site with few products and flowers with google ads in it. It did not accept anything. no backend operations were being carried out.

but after june 2011, I have refreshed chenniashopping.com into a online tamil book store that does do real selling. I have contacted various publishers for businesses. Slowly, one by one have been on-boarded into the site and the sales have started happening.

Myself and couple of my college friends started working on various UX elements  in the site. we made it to a extent that it can be used to do business. Initially, we rarely get visits / orders. But today, we make good amount of orders, visits and sales per day. but not good enough to run the business with more no. of people.

Since the sales have happened, myself and dilli have been involved in procurement and shipment of items via courier / India post. we together have faced lots of struggles at various places. another friend muthu and dilli were running the site while i was out for my marriage and post-marriage holidays.

I was back and then we got few people working with us. Sankar, Kala both were working part time. Sankar, being a .net tech guy, learned php and helped in various tools building for our day-to-day operations. Kala was mainly responsible for customer care 12×7 even till today along with content maintenance. Because of her, we have got 5000+ books in our site.  Dilli and myself too have worked in content. Oftimes, Kala used to do sales as well for both domestic and International customers. Muthu helped Kala learn things in her home.

From 4 digit revenue to 5 digit to 6 digit revenue we reached in jul 2012. we thought its a big achievement and it is. why? because, we have been trusted by people across the world who paid us for our service and collectively it reached 6 digit revenue. we wanted to grow more. we don’t know how. we don’t have resources and capital but we wanted to grow.

In Jan 2013, we received a bulk order say upto 6 digit sales figure from a Library firm outside India. With the motivation given by Muthu, we had taken up this order and delivered. Customer is Happy. By today, we have been receiving orders from them now and then. It feels so good to be trusted by our customers.

To add to our motivation, we have seen a customer who placed order of 12k in a single order. We still follow up with customer as fast as we can and as good as we can. we are here because of publishers and customers.

Our publishers give us books to sell and we sell it to our customers. Everything is going fine. But…. there are many things in my mind?.

Couple of questions I have in my mind are:

  • How do we expand into a multi-crore business?
  • Should we expand to other Indian / foreign languages books?
  • Should we expand to ebooks?
  • Should we expand to other categories of products such as apparels, electronics etc ?

All these are question mark and I am trying to find answers. we are hungry for growth and capital.

We started with 2L as working capital and now reached a revenue of around 15L selling tamil books alone. we have brought more sales additionally to our publishers. we would love to bring in more revenue for them. we would love to serve the customers who are hungry for reading in their mother tongue.

With so many distractions coming along the way, running a online store seems to be difficult day by day. Here are couple of reasons which i think..

1. Margins from Publishers (in tamil) is low. They should be upped for those who make good sales. Not sure whether this is done by publishers in tamil publishing industry.

2. Rarely, publishers give 90 or 180 days credits to those genuine sellers like us. we use internet and technology to do sales.

3. Creative writing is missing in Tamil Publishing. Majority of publishers tries to publish books that are in public domain for eg. Kalki’s, N.Parthasarathy, birbal stories

4. Original Fiction are rare to be released. Most of the Fiction books that are selling now are written in 80s , 90s i guess.

5. Historical novels that are written in 1970’s-2000 for e.g Ponniyin selvan, most historical tamil novels do good business. but not high.

6. Leaders & Current affairs – Lot of books being released related to Rajiv gandhi, LTTE, Tamil Eelam, world leaders, Indian politics, current affairs – they do sell but not high.

7. Not many creative books for childrens😦

8. Major marketing push by publishers for each book being released is missing. probably due to budget. but book selling is directly proportion to how well it is being marketed.

9. Getting its place in bigger physical store like odyssey, landmark, crossword could be game changers. most of them sell Ponniyin selvan or learn hindi through tamil and sujatha’s books.

10. The book paper quality, cover paper quality should also be taken into consideration.

and there could be many more reasons. How i am going to handle all those will be seen in coming days…

The entire Tamil publishing ecosystem which comprises of Writers, Publishers, Distributors and Sellers should work together in taking the Tamil Publishing ecosystem to the next level.

I mean the next level in terms of Sales, Revenue sharing, better margins etc. English book store owners complain that selling tamil books yield them very low margin compared to English. but i can agree that it is hard to compete.

With a single tamil book being published in 1000s compared to a single english book published in 100,000 – best selling books

This has to be changed and till then, it will be a struggle for lots of online sellers who are arising new day by day….

You can watch out this space for more updates…..

7 thoughts on “Running a online tamil book store…

  1. Sir, it’s great to see your blog post here, as I love your site very much. I would like to tell some ideas here,

    1) You have the best list of Tamil books, more than any other e-commerce sites. When I searched books on flipkart, I find a numerous amounts of famous and important Tamil books missing. So I think this will be the case to all other Indian language books too. And so my suggestion here is to talk to other Indian language readers and find out the possibilities and show them you are the leader in their language too.

    2) Next, it is not just the amount of readers, but also the amount of good videos about famous Tamil writers is also scarce. So here I would love, if you take interviews from famous writers and what books they love reading and suggestions etc… with no compromise on the quality and content of the video. You can put those videos on youtube and create a subdomain like videos.chennaishopping.com. This may help the readers what to read and can increase your brand value.

    3) And of course, there is a huge opportunity for Indian language e-books, but make sure you have good financial backup before trying this.

    4) Before adding other categories, make sure you are unique from the other competitors.

    All the best for a great venture sir !!!

  2. Just two days back I bought a few books on vikatan’s online book shop. Your website never turned up on the first page for my searches “podhu arivu kalngiam”, “podhu tamil”, “Kala petakam”, “manorama year book”. I tried googling for “ponnian selvan” now. Again I did not find your website on the first page. So you should do some SEO or paid SEM to increase some awareness.

    For the search “buy tamil books online”, this is the third link. http://www.chennaishopping.com/s/order I think your landing page must be front page. UI must be improved a lot to make it appear professional. Right now your website looks little amateurish. I am not the right person to suggest the right combination of colors, layouts, fonts and placements but I do get a feel that it is less professional.

    I don’t know what content management system or shopping cart you are using. I suggest you to implement five star rating and comments like those on flipkart. Comments should have two sections, one for the book reviews and another one for writing something about your customer service. Try to integrate a good tamil transliteration editor.

    You could start selling some high value tamil art items like tanjore paitings, framed pictures.

    You may also follow the path of tamilmatrimony.com to open some real brick-and-mortar stores to get some additional revenue but mainly to get good advertisement and awareness. Having a real store with a dotcom name is the best way to stand out of the crowd and get some real advertisement.

    If possible allow readers to browse through first few pages of the book just as in amazon.com

  3. Please see http://www.fastcompany.com/1825005/how-one-second-could-cost-amazon-16-billion-sales

    and http://www.webpagetest.org/result/130713_2R_9ZE/

    You really need to invest in a faster server and optimize the site load as much you can. Shared hosting is no good for a serious ecommerce site.

    I use http://wp26.com/go/nodeki and it is lighting fast. But it specializes in WordPress hosting. You may enquire with them if they may be OK with hosting you.

    Designing the site with mobile users and their average networks speed will also help.

    Do look at http://payzippy.com/ which promises better payment solutions.

    Having Disqus comments doesn’t seem like a good idea. It shows irrelevant links and confused the user. I wonder why a commenting system is needed. Better would be a review system by confirmed users. Or, you can pull reviews from sites like Goodreads (if they have Tamil books).

    Recently one of my blog readers wanted to buy a book but didn’t know how. He has studied till 9th standard only. I aksed him to call the number at
    http://www.dialforbooks.in/ . It is a neat idea as it lets one order by Phone. You can try that too.

    1. Ravi,

      Thank you for the big comments🙂

      I agree that shared hosting is no good for a serious e-commerce site. but if you are running a tamil book store, we can generate revenue only to run on shared hosting. Faster server and site load time is not a big deal as of now.

      The problem is with the tamil publishing ecosystem. its fragmented. unorganized. very less professionally managed.

      thank you for various suggestions. dial4books – not a scalable one for a tiny company like us. If we have capital and infrastructure, it can be done.

      For now, scaling orders is a big issue for us. and there are lots of reasons for that. Minimal audience. genuine sellers like us dont get books for credit. we dont get stock updates regularly from publishers.

      and there are many more. running a site is <10% issue.

      For amazon, it is not a site. they have built a perfect ecosystem and now ruling it.

      hope u understand.

      – bala

  4. Bala,

    All the issues you discuss are things out of your control. All the players in the same field have to compete with the same limitations.

    My suggestions were to improve things that are within your control and are proven world wide to provide better results.

    Every business has a running cost. Just because we do it online doesn’t mean we can squeeze cost everywhere and provide a lesser experience. You can try a better web host for a month or two and see if it is worth the money.

    Senthil has valid points too. The cover images look jaded, the buy button can be more pleasing and you definitely need a professional logo done.

    Please remove the disqus comments. It provides absurd links at the end. Every distraction in an e-commerce site is like shooting one’s own foot.

    Up to you and all the best🙂

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