This post is going to be a weird experiment in being candid and transparent to the point of almost anti-marketing. Bear with me.
If you’ve ever wandered over to the Books and eBooks page on this site, among my fiction and non-fiction projects that you’ve actually heard of, you may have noticed a little thing called The Seller Ledger: An Auction Organizer for Selling on eBay. I never talk about this book. I never tweet about it or, really, market it in anyway. I thought I should explain what the deal is with that, though, in case anyone was curious and hopefully give you a little insight into why I do some of things I do.
When I started selling on eBay, I was using a dial-up modem internet connection. Some of you may remember what that was like. We didn’t have a dedicated phone line so you couldn’t go online if someone was on the phone or waiting for a phone call and, if you were online and a call came in, you’d get kicked off. Also, this.
I was 17 when I started selling on eBay so my internet use was limited both by the factors above and by school, my parents, and the rest of my life. So I started keeping a hard copy of all my eBay transactions because it allowed me to do things like ship packages even when I couldn’t use the internet. (Side note: Telling you all of this makes me feel insanely old. This all happened only a few years ago in my head and it sounds so stone age when I write it up.) I set up this ledger style notebook where I wrote in all my transactions and brought it with me to the post office and it was generally essential to running my business.
Then we finally got a cable modem but I didn’t stop using a hard copy of my records. It was still useful to me because I could pack items without having to turn on my computer (which was slow to boot up) and it kept my records portable. When I had an epic computer crash, I was able to still run my entire business for the week before my new computer arrived because I had a hard copy of my records.
At some point during this time period, I had upgraded from regular notebooks to printing myself these coil bound ledgers that I customized specifically to my eBay business. On a whim, I decided to make them available for sale to the public reasoning that if I found them helpful, surely someone else would to. I made them available via print-on-demand and sold them both on eBay and through Amazon. I didn’t stock a single copy of the book… if I customer ordered a copy, I had the printer print and ship it directly to the customer (Does this count as drop shipping? I’ve always wondered.) Because the only fees I paid upfront were the insertion fees on eBay and I only paid for the book when a customer bought one, it was just about as close to a risk free product at you could get so I didn’t really care how it sold.
To my surprise, it started to sell really well. I started to get sick of manually filling orders. Maybe I should set up some kind of automatic distribution fulfillment? But I was limited by the coil bound binding. I finally realized it was much more cost effective to abandon the coil bound as the book would be cheaper to produce as a perfect bound paperback. I kept the coil bound version available via POD mostly because I still personally thought that version was easier to use even though the content was identical but it had higher production costs than the perfect bound so it was more expensive. I made the perfect bound version available through all major bookstores and was surprised when sales grew. Regardless of how I felt about coil bound versus perfect bound, the public sure didn’t seem to mind the new version and its lower price. But I almost hadn’t done the expanded distribution because I felt so strongly that it wasn’t useful unless it was coil bound. I mention this because me being wrong is a theme of this post.
Technology advanced. Computers and internet both became so fast that it was no longer a hassle to turn on my computer. With laptops, tablets, and cell phones, my eBay records are already portable without the need for a hard copy. I have so many computers in my house, I’m not longer as worried about a crash. I stopped keeping a hard copy of my records. It seemed completely pointless and a waste of paper. I stopped selling the book in my eBay store because I figured my buyers would feel the same way. Had sales actually slowed or did I just decide they would? I don’t genuinely remember but I know that my own personal opinions on the product were a big reason I decided to stop selling it and that decision wasn’t really based on anything else.
I only recently realized that I never cancelled distribution for the book through bookstores. I went to cancel that when I discovered something: It was still selling. OK, maybe not at the volume it once was but it was enough that it was still turning a steady profit.
What did I do? I put it out of print anyway. Because I am what my grandparents call, “a thickhead.” I didn’t see any point to this product anymore and I didn’t see any reason why anyone would want it so I cancelled it.
And I started to get emails… “Do you know where I can get a copy of your eBay ledger? My bookstore is telling me it’s out of print.” “I go through about 5 of those ledgers of yours a year and I’m running low. Do you have some copies on hand?” “Why can’t I find the ledger anywhere anymore??!?!?!?”
I didn’t understand it. What the heck is wrong with you people? I thought. This product is obsolete! Why do you still want it?
I resisted for a little while before I realized that I was being an idiot. I was refusing to sell a product people wanted because I personally didn’t see a need for it. I found a new distributor that allowed me to drop the price but still make the same profit and put the book back up for sale. Obviously, just because I’m plugged in 24/7 and no longer use a hard copy system doesn’t mean that there aren’t still people who find value in the product and still have a need for it. My personal opinion doesn’t matter worth a damn in this and I was letting it rule the entire decision.
Put another way: I shouldn’t have let my own personal feelings about a product taint what should have purely been a business decision. The product is still making money… don’t stop selling it just because you don’t want one yourself. But considering how most of my business decisions are based solely on a gut feeling, it was counter-intuitive to ignore my gut and go with the numbers and the market. I needed to learn to give the people what they want, even if I don’t really understand myself why they still want it.
The Seller Ledger is available right now on Amazon here. There’s lots of positive reviews and it happily keeps selling. But I don’t talk about it or market it because, frankly, I feel weird telling people to buy something I no longer use myself. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be able to use it if you find it helpful. I clearly has it’s fans… I’m just weirdly not one of them anymore.
I’m not really sure what lesson you should take away from this post other than these:
- Sometimes your gut is wrong.
- Don’t let your personal opinion and stubbornness overrule the cold hard facts.
- If your customers want to give you money for something, give it to them even if you don’t understand why they want it.
What do you think?