The many pivots of a side project
First, the passion
We, at Code Runners, love books and strive to support education and access to books and literature. We feel strongly that access to education is fundamental for social development and – especially in our Eastern European context – key to reach “the next level” both professionally and socially.
It would therefore come as no surprise that one of our earliest projects was representing O’Reilly at our local market.
We built and online bookstore – ITBookshelf – and landed on a journey to disseminate knowledge through strategic partnerships – like local IoT hardware vendors Robotev, for example.
We added contacts and contracts with other book publishers – both on a per-edition, per-author basis, but also in a wider context.
Then, why we can’t sustain it any more
For the last four years, ITBookshelf was an e-commerce exercise (experiment?) on top of a shared passion. However, it never grew in a self-sustaining business for a bunch of reasons:
- time and money (speak: marketing) investments were always minimal
- needing to cover VAT (20% for books in Bulgaria) and shipping was only meaningful for large shipments
- IT books have a short life span, given the sector is booming – thus, keeping a large inventory in a limited market makes little sense
These restrictions were present throughout the years and we offered pre-sale only and delivered within a month.
Given today’s customer expectations, a month is just too much time. Consumers are accustomed to next-day deliveries – and it’s a good thing. However, our only value proposition compared to Amazon remained “guaranteed delivery to your doorstep” – which rarely sufficed.
Lastly, data accuracy and consistency was a nightmare for data-driven people like our team. Partners only notified us on newly published books – but rarely updated prices – and we never knew what books were available and what weren’t. No problem – we thought – so we had to code a crawler to update product prices. But we could never know if the book would be available or not.
How is that even possible?
Well, that’s how the whole business operates – everything appears to be outsourced – from book storage, to invoicing, to logistics. Availability and assortment, we were told, were handled by yet another 3rd party service, and access to their API would cost upwards of five figures.
In the meantime, O’Reilly’s website – our single source of accurate pricing – migrated to… Amazon. And that straw broke the camel’s back.
Next steps & way forward
While we will no longer provide support to a wider audience, we would continue participating in conferences and events, where we would be able to provide topic-specific articles in a much more controlled, predictable manner. See you out there!