“Merchant Talk” is our weekly discussion with a practicing ecommerce merchant. For this installment, we visited with Jill Exler, the founder and CEO of Jexbo.com, an ecommerce site for authors to sell their self-published books.
Practical eCommerce: Tell us about your site.
Jill Exler: “The site is Jexbo.com and it’s a mix of my name, Jill Exler, and ‘books,’ so I have the J-E-X-B-O. It’s a place for self-published authors to sell their books directly to the readers. I launched it in 2007 after I had written a book and I was going to have it self-published and then I thought, ‘Wait a minute, where am I going to sell it?’ I looked at some huge, established websites, and there are a lot of sites where writers can sell their books. But I couldn’t find one that really fit what I was looking for.”
PeC: How did you get interested in ecommerce?
Exler: “You know, it’s something that I actually fell into because when I couldn’t find a site to sell my book myself, and I was looking everywhere, I thought, ‘I’m just going to have to create one myself.’
“So, I knew the company Etsy.com, which is where people sell their own handcrafted items themselves. I got in touch with the people at Etsy and said, ‘Help me. I want a site like yours, but for books.’ So, they’re the ones who started me on this, showed me who to get in touch with, how to do this.”
PeC: There are sites that self-published authors can sell on. Most anyone can sell on Amazon.com, to state the obvious example. Why should an author put a self-published book on your site versus listing it on, say, Amazon?
Exler: “I would say absolutely put it on Amazon. Amazon has a huge number of users. The difference is Amazon takes a big cut of the percentage of your sales price. It’s free to list your books on Jexbo, and we only get 5 percent of what’s sold each month. There are also sites where, for instance, you pay $99 annual fee and they will market your books for you. Before I would spend $99, I would really have to get some references from that website to see if it’s going to be worth it.”
PeC: How many books do you have on your site right now?
Exler: “I have active about 60 books, but there are about a hundred books listed. The authors can take them off and put them back on at different times. So, at the moment, there are about 60 books active and new books get added every week, and also I have readers signing up every week. So, I’m not at Amazon’s level yet, but I’m working hard.”
PeC: Tell us a little bit about the infrastructure of your site, such as the shopping cart, how you fulfill the orders, accounting software and so forth.
Exler: “My site has been custom-developed and I have a custom shopping cart, using Ruby on Rails, with the order management system built in. When someone buys a book, an email is sent to the author and the author fulfills it. I have AWeber as an email marketing provider, and I use an outside tech team that does the technical things.”
PeC: How do you market your site?
Exler: “I use the social media sites of Twitter and Facebook and I tweet about all the books available and I tweet to remind people to do your holiday shopping now because it’s supporting the authors and it’s finding readers who need books. I have a monthly newsletter and a weekly blog. I have a channel on Smallbiz America Radio that’s updated with interviews with authors. I have a publicist and she sends out a monthly press release. I have a blog on PINK magazine online. So, I’m doing a lot of promoting of my site.”
PeC: What are some mistakes you’ve made along the way?
Exler: “Well, one of my biggest mistakes is when I was first recommended to the web developer to set up the site. I didn’t check references. I just I ran with it and that company turned out to not be as helpful in sticking to a schedule. They were working at a much slower pace than I expected and it was hard to motivate them. So, I have found another web developer who is much better, much more helpful. So, that’s my biggest mistake, not doing a reference check on the first web developer.”
PeC: What about the decision that you’re proudest of?
Exler: “The biggest success to me is that I have the site up and running. I get emails all the time from authors saying this is just what they need.”
PeC: You’re from Michigan. You now live in southwest Germany. Tell us about your professional background that led you to being an author and, later, a seller of books.
Exler: “Well, I actually studied law in Detroit and I spent a summer at a law program in England where I met my husband, who’s Austrian. Once I married him, we moved to Austria and then later Germany. So, I’ve had no time to practice law, but I have had lots of time to travel and write. So, I wrote my book that has some chapters about traveling in Europe. So, I guess it’s just my experience has given me something to write about because I have done a lot of traveling in Europe.”
PeC: Where did you go to college?
Exler: “I went to Calvin College in Grand Rapids, and then I went to Detroit College of Law for law school, which is now part of Michigan State.”
PeC: Our readers are ecommerce merchants like you. Do you have any advice for them?
Exler: “I would say the first thing is to keep a positive attitude because some days are really rough. You’ll get a bad email or something won’t be working right, but if you can have a positive attitude, maybe surround yourself with positive friends, find websites with people who will help support you, look for ways to promote your business and products, because you never know what’s going to come up.”