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Insights into Publishing and online sales.

Sometimes things happen and they are a blessing in disguise. The outcome ending up being much better the the original. We had before Christmas a serious problem with our online shop, and the solution has been an interesting journey.

I'm going to give some insight into the world of setting up an online store today. You may be thinking about setting something up as a hobby or part time business.

For years now, in fact a couple of decades I've been involved in publishing. After leaving my job at UCB, I wanted to develop an online store which would sell books, booklets and magazines that I also developed. So I could keep costs down and do my own marketing and fulfilment. Traditionally as a publisher, when you try and distribute your product, the distributor wants a 65% cut, The author usually gets 15%, so the publisher normally tries to survive on the remaining 20%, which is virtually impossible when they have to carry the risk of printing the stock and pay for the printing of the product itself. It's no wonder that many of the known names in publishing have either gone bust or have been bought out through administration or liquidation. The old system is broken.

A few publishers have become quite adept at finding aspiring authors and then charging them to 'self-publish' . They offer their design, and print services, but require the author to pay for that through various levels of packages. I've been helping a project recently where the 'administration and design phase' of the project cost £16,000 and then the print cost was also going to be passed onto the author in it's entirety - a further £35,000+.

For many these are eye watering figures just to get something publish and in fairness that example is extreme. For a single book with a print run of say 2,000 copies, the author can expect to have to come up with around £5,000. The worse thing of all is, that the marketing promises never usually meet expectation and the author is left with boxes and boxes of books they cannot sell.

So when I setup i wanted to control the process from start to finish. Either Rebekah, myself or an invited author would write the material, I would arrange the design and organise the print. The key thing though was the mechanism to sell the items once the stock arrived. I decided to use email marketing to sell the items on an online store through the Shopify platform.

In the first year (9 months) building customers from zero, the turnover was £8,000, The second year a more respectable £25,000 and last year £22,000 (I did a half time sabbatical) . The costs were as follows :-

Costs are listed monthly

£67 Shopify store with advanced reporting

£30 For additional Shopify apps

£19 Mailchimp account for sending emails

£33 To use Issuu for digital download magazines

£11 Hootsuite to send out social media posts

The overheads came to roughly £160 a month. This is just to run the online store. Then you have to think about the time it takes to add new products, send out emails and process orders. It's roughly 2 hours a day and then 3-4 minutes for each order that comes in.

So I'm two years and nine months in and all was going well. I had created something from nothing and my average monthly profit was approx. £1,200, which these days forms an important part of income.

Then disaster struck. Just before Christmas after some kind of update on Shopify, my shop wasn't processing orders. Initially the back end system was listing every product as out of stock. Even when I manually changed that, customers were still experiencing out of stock in the final stage of the checkout. I contacted customer only to be told - you'll need to delete your store and start again. I was NOT impressed.

In moments like this you can either be defeated, or suck it up and look for alternatives. I had just completed setting up this blog on Wix and wondered what features Wix has for an online store. The answer is plenty, so I started the process of re-setting up my shop on a new platform.

Wix doesn't have all the functionality of Shopify, but what it does have is plenty for me. The great news was they integrate email marketing and digital product sales into one system, so this drastically reduced my monthly overhead from £160 a month to now around £45. The saving is the cost of a family holiday !!

So when adversity comes, sometimes it's an opportunity to do things differently.

You might have an idea to sell your photography, or jewellery you make, you might have a crazy idea to make and sell something or buy product in to sell. If you have 2-3 hours spare per day, where you can work from home - you have very little to loose.

To finish off on the publishing front. Over the last 25 years I've published or overseen the publishing of approx. 500 items, from small booklets to huge book projects. If you find yourself in a situation where you have a book idea, drop me an email, as I might be able to give some advise which will save you thousands.


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