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The New Book Buyer Keeps Knocking!
A start-up story by Angy Webster, Cofounder of All African Books the new kid on the eCommerce block. Angy gives us some real insight into start-up life and her decision to launch her business online as opposed to going the traditional brick and mortar route.
How it all started
As long as I can remember my dream was to own a physical bookstore. A quaint little store filled to the brim with books of new and old origin, the aroma coffee breaking through the smell of musty old books (masterpieces in my opinion), meeting readers, young and old, and helping them find the perfect companion to take home was my thinking. When the time came to turn this dream into a reality, my plan did not pan as I thought it would. My greatest luxury is buying books (as I'm completely obsessed with them), and shopping for specific books at major bookstores was pretty much all I knew. In Mahikeng where I grew up, the only ‘bookstore’ we had was the CNA! If CNA didn’t have what I wanted, it had never occurred to me to look for them online, I would just give up and buy whatever I was told or recommended at the store.
Moving to the big city changed all that, of course, but it was only much later that I discovered online shopping. I had to wait 3 weeks for a popular bookseller to get me the book I ordered. Whilst I was off on a rant fuelled by frustration (powered by my unhealthy obsession of literature) my partner suggested I buy the book online and stop nagging.
This was a foreign concept to me but I gave it a go it opened up a whole new world to me. Not only did the endless catalogues put CNA in Mahikeng to shame but I found and ordered my book in 10 minutes and received it in 5 days. The books were also cheaper online and the best part was you got what you wanted and didn’t have to wait a decade and a half! I was converted and proceeded to tell the rest of the book friends in Mahikeng about my new discovery (sorry CNA!). Years passed and despite my enthusiastic online book purchases, my dream was still my dream.
It was my business partner, who happens to be my husband, who changed my mind. He and I are quite different, a trait that is consistent with all great couples, I am a dreamer and he is a realist (a.ka. a dream killer – or at least he is in this story). He argued that owning a physical bookstore is a pricey endeavour and a thing of the past. And even with spades of ‘emotional’ capital, it was the monetary capital that brought me down to earth.
An idea took shape
After much back and forth I decided that my dream was not dead, instead, I needed to alter it to make it lucrative and serviceable to a new type of reader, i.e. the online shopper! The e-commerce culture is still fairly new in Africa and for many, the process can seem rather daunting. This is something I didn’t want my users to experience.
Fortunately, my partner is a techno fundi so building an online store was effortless. He made sure that the website was fully kitted out and above all he made sure it was user-friendly. He was motivated to produce a site that was:
- Clean, simple and spacious.
- Easy to use and navigate
- Boasted an intuitive checkout process, and
- Made absolute sense to the user.
There is nothing worse than a site cluttered with too much content, flashy banners and gimmicks making the site slow for the customer. His words, not mine. With the relatively high cost of data here in South Africa, we needed to make sure that the website responds quickly and allows the customer to search, pick, click, buy and check-out logically and securely.
I’m still learning, and sometimes I find it all still very confusing but with a happy heart I am glad we have opted to launch Allafricanbooks.com, an independent online bookstore that sells and promotes ONLY African Literature! While my partner explores new ways to make our website perform optimally, I am left to work on customer relations.
With a background in the traditional arena, where banners, flyers and all types of print media was seen as the best way to promote a product, this was a huge challenge for me. Digitised brands now have social media and content marketing to directly communicate and interact with customers. Armed with my new tools I discover new creative ways to reach customers on a daily basis.
Social media makes it all so easy, with a click of a button I am able to share my interest of African Literature with bloggers and readers all over the world and interact with both publishers and authors.
The future of African literature
Since the birth of the internet, information has become readily available in all sorts of digital formats. So where does that leave African literature, a category that struggles to be publicised in general? Is digitising African Literature the way forward to increase its exposure and tapping into a wider audience?
This makes perfect sense, especially for schools and academia as these books can become very expensive. We are living in a century where books can and should be downloadable. No more photocopying Chinua Achebe’s books for lectures! If we provide users with a platform for accessing these ebooks at discounted prices then books can be shared between multiple users saving time and money.
With the way digital media is growing these days, I will not be the least surprised if online libraries become a norm. It is a reality we must all get used to and the sooner African literature bridges that gap the better.
That being said, I don’t see the hardcover and paperback dying anytime soon (or at all?) and anecdotally most of those we’ve spoken to hate reading anything other than ‘the real thing’. But the world is slowly changing and users are adopting digitised formats more and more and stocking various formats is something we’re almost certainly going to be looking into offering in the near future.
Angy Webster Co-founder of All African Books
About the Authour
Angy Webster lives in Muizenberg with her husband Andrew and their adorable cats. She longs for a good cup of Hazelnut Latte but the heartless doctor says NO!