E-FILES: NZBooks targets overseas customers

Online niche bookseller runs a lean and on-the-fly operation catering to overseas buyers


The dot-com address is a giveaway — the focus of Dan Cross’s Web site is firmly fixed overseas.

His market is divided into three: New Zealanders overseas, visitors wanting more information before or after their trip and those wanting academic or Maori books.

Cross, a former teacher and data communications specialist, doesn’t intend to compete with Whitcoulls or the recent US arrival to Auckland, Borders, with this niche approach.

He says the site is “not doing too bad six months down the track”, especially after problems with his first ISP. The service provider he set up with last year went bust, losing Cross money and forcing the company to stop trading for three months and redesign with a new ISP, MailXchange, and a new e-commerce platform, 3-tier.

He is “covering costs” but says because his running costs are small, “we don’t have to make huge sales to start looking good”. NZBooks.com, which operates using part-timers, including Cross himself who is an educational adviser, buys in books as ordered. “We keep stock as low as possible.”

He says the resulting two- to three-day delay is acceptable to overseas buyers who have to wait a week or so anyway. If New Zealand was the main market, 24 hours would be the optimum turnaround time, he says.

The company is considering setting up a physical bookshop, though the independence a virtual site allows still holds great appeal. “I’ve always had a passion for books, but I probably couldn’t cope with the idea of sitting in a bookshop for 40 to 60 hours a week.”

Local literature has always appealed also, as has the promise of the Internet. Cross says no one is doing what he is even now, or greatly promoting New Zealand books overseas.

On development costs: “If someone came to me and asked how much it would cost, I would say it could be $100,000.” The business is labour-intensive, he says, with cataloguing, adding books and warehousing stock.

The site’s security, based on SSL (secure sockets layer), could be better, Cross admits, and he is looking to “tee up” with a digital verification specialist such as Verisign.

NZBooks’ marketing includes listing the site with search engines and establishing links with New-Zealand-oriented sites, such as a recent one with Kiwionline.com, though Cross says he is wary of running a “big, flashy” marketing campaign and missing his target market while spending a lot of money.

Some of the local publishers have been good, he says, though others are not even aware of his site. He has had a lot of interest from small publishers in particular and is looking at setting up a directory of local publishers on the site. Cross is also interested in the second-hand book market, as New Zealand books are printed in such short runs they quickly go out of stock.

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