“Make a store with our 2MM books, DVDs, graphic novels, and more.”
“Sell products your audience will love at any point of interest or engagement.”
“Aer.io’s Native Retail puts products you select on your site and into your social streams, both desktop & mobile.”
Aer.io is a retail effort from Aerbook, and if you pop on over to the Aerbook side of their site, you’ll see options for authors and creators to upload and sell their own epub or PDF files.
Aerbook has been around since 2010, and while the Aer.io platform is ‘new’, this has been in the works for at least two years
4 September 2012 : PBS Media Shift : Aerbook Maker, Kwik Help E-Books Come Alive with Multimedia
January 2014 : Book Business Magazine : Aerbook Ebook Platform Introduces Publishers to Native Retail
14 March 2014 : Publisher’s Weekly : Aerbook Turns Social Media Into a Virtual Bookstore
“Over the years since I’ve been writing for PBS MediaShift I’ve looked to Aerbook founder Ron Martinez’s innovations for a peek into the future of publishing. I’m happy to report that his products have finally landed in the present, for everyone, not just the tech-adventurous. Aerbook began as a fixed-layout multimedia e-book creation tool with Aerbook Maker. Martinez then added the capability for authors to create social fliers that allow authors to send news of their book down the social stream where readers can sample and buy books directly from Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. The new Aer.io product (in beta) perfects this strategy and takes it to the next level to allow anyone to build a bookstore on your own website for fun and profit. With this ability to so easily build a bookstore I expect that many tech-savvy authors will create niche sites in order to promote their own titles.”
How Self-Publishing Services Blossomed in 2014, Carla King, Publisher’s Weekly, 31 December 2014
11 December 2014 : Ink, Bits, & Pixels [formerly The Digital Reader] : Gumroad Goes Where Aerbook Already Treads
19 January 2015 : Publishing Perspectives : Aer.io from Aerbook Lets You Curate Your Own Online Bookstore
12 February 2015 : press release : Morgan James to Preview and Directly Sell Print and e-Books on the Mobile, Social Web, and Enable Sales by Aer.io Retail Network
15 January 2015 : Publisher’s Weekly : S&S and Harper Grow Direct-to-Consumer Programs, “HarperCollins introduced a pilot program with e-book previews, and purchasing options, to social media users via Aerbook.”
26 January 2015 : Futurebook : ‘You are the destination’: Aerbook’s ‘native commerce’ for publishing
So What Is It?
For the customers purchasing books, Aer.io offers fulfillment via Ingram (for paper) and direct downloads for e-books — their FAQ for ebook purchasers points consumers to the Bluefire Reader (if they don’t already have a way to open the epub file) with additional instructions for Kindle & iBooks users.
[aside: files are amazingly agnostic; the Apple/Amazon trick is to fool you into staying within their respective platforms]
The actual purchase screen is simple and sparse (ready-made for mobile and smaller screens on phone and tablet) and rather straightforward. From a customer’s perspective, well, it’s not Amazon — but this is certainly on par with direct sales at nearly any other web site I’ve seen.
On the aspiring internet retailer side, Aer.io offers an web-based interface to easily add books, and even provides you with your own store on their site: mine looks like this – https://aerbook.com/store/The_Bookshop_at_RocketBomber
The store is embeddable, so you can easily add this to your blog (say, under a “store” tab or menu item) or — if you happen to have a subdomain available — you can drop a frame directly onto your own URL. Something like bookshop.rocketbomber.com.
Sales cards for books are also embeddable, and from the back-of-store side of your sales site, you can build widgets for individual titles. The embed code is probably optimized for something like Wordpress; as we can see to our right, if you drop it into some oddball CMS like the one running RocketBomber, we get wonky results that I’ll have to go in and correct manually.
Who is it for?
Aer.io makes it trivial to set up your own store. Really, it took me 15 minutes. 15 minutes — from not even having a sign-in and password to having a Aerbook store URL and 500 or so titles ready to purchase.
What Aer.io won’t provide are any customers.
If you have a book review site, or fan culture blog or podcast, or a news aggregation site with decent traffic, an Aer.io book store could be a great feature to add — maybe pitched as a service (“hey, here are the books we mentioned in the show this week”), maybe as a revenue source (I wouldn’t bank on it), or just to have.
If you were a creator, author, or comicker and wanted to sell your own stuff, then you could certainly make use of Aerbooks to do so — in fact, that was part of the functionality before the Aer.io platform. Now you can also add other items (DVDs, for example) and maybe make a few bucks. The appeal for an author might be the speed with which a store can be set up — even if all you plan to sell is your own book.
When you add books to your store ‘inventory’, you also get to select the discount — though you can only cut so deep. If you attempt to go below the ‘minimum’ price (presumably, Ingram’s price on the physical book, or the publisher’s maximum discounted price, whichever applies) then the Aer.io store will automatically revert to that minimum. Discounting books also cuts into your margin (hey, just like ‘real’ retail) so if you were looking to Aer.io to make money, you won’t be able to cut too deep…
However, you can also apply a ‘negative discount’ — you set the price, so if you want to you can charge more. The example to our right, Midnight Madness (the worst movie I could think of, spur-of-the-moment) is currently marked up 100% in my little web store, because I don’t want you to buy it. If the goal of your web-shop is not to undercut Amazon, but instead to raise funds (say, for charity) then that functionality is built in too.
“Make a one-time donation of $50, and in addition to helping RocketBomber you’ll get a copy of this great book, too! Our fulfillment partner will take care of shipping, and charging your card, so all you have to do is click this link! Thanks for helping out!”
The user interface is intuitive and (at least with the numbers using it in this beta) moves fast. I was able to plug in a few of my favorite publishers (Viz, Vertical, Yen Press, Dark Horse, Seven Seas, DMP — and yes, all those were in there) and the search quickly pulled up more manga than I expected. The boast of 2 Million titles quickly proves itself. Each individual product page has the social media buttons baked in — Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest — making sharing a two-click affair, for you or for any of your followers/readers who’d care to help.
Searches by title/author are perhaps the best way to find books to add; by title particularly for numbered series, by author for nearly anything else. Collections of books are also available (called ‘playlists’ by Aer.io — perhaps an artifact of some other application of this software) and you can either select some that are ready-made, or roll your own. Adding titles to a playlist is a little slower, as each title must be added individually, as opposed to the ‘select all’, ‘add selections’ options I gladly used when building the store.
There is also an ‘import your books from GoodReads’ option — with the ability to only include those you rated at 3, 4, and/or 5 stars. If you’ve already invested a chunk of time building your virtual bookshelves there, you can quickly flip that into a virtual book store.
Payments are handled by Stripe, as are pay-outs (assuming I ever get to that point) but there’s no need to fill out any of those forms to set up your login and store front. (only when, and if, you want to cash out your commissions. there’s a $10 minimum on payments)
[more on Stripe Marketplace – 5 June 2013 : Techcrunch : Stripe Makes It Easier For Marketplaces To Collect And Distribute Payments To Multiple Accounts]
As stated, it’s easy to get up and running. For a web admin or author looking to add just a few items with buy links to a sidebar, or a quick-and-dirty shop add-on, this will take a single afternoon.
The Drawbacks: (call it, ‘room for improvements’)
[And note: this is the beta version so of course any complaints should be seen in that light]
A larger shop will take time to build, and getting the frames/embeds to actually look good on your website/CMS across multiple browsers might take you several hours, depending on your particular platform and your familiarity with HTML/CSS and whatever scripting you’ll get into. It took me 40 minutes or so to drop a frame into The World’s Most Basic HTML File without the annoying double scroll bar, mostly because I don’t think I’ve ever used frames before. (It turns out, there is an easy solution but it will only work on modern browsers. No support for IE8. …that might actually be a feature)
Even with the seemingly huge selection of titles on Aer.io, I still quickly found gaps. The Gundam series, for example: I was only able to find 4 of 10 volumes of Gundam: The Origin, and volume 1 is incorrectly listed as volume 10. This is a weakness on the part of Ingram, I’d bet – the Aer.io site makes everything easier but still relies on the databases and item descriptions provided by their fulfillment partners.
Speaking of problems with databases, those 2 Million titles include the annoying straight-from-wikipedia print-on-demand books that clog a number of sites, including Amazon and B&N. I don’t suppose there is any way to exclude these — but the good news is that only you see them on the back end, when searching for inventory to add. These will not appear in your storefront unless you’ve specifically added them.
Only twice did I manage to make the interface ‘clunk’ — once because I managed to select a ‘custom field’ option that I don’t think was supposed to be visible, and again when I gave the search too much to chew on (I think) and then got impatient and tried to back out. Neither error was fatal, and easily fixed by going back to the right-hand menu and starting over.
Wrap-up: final thoughts.
Aer.io is not a complete product but what is currently available is pretty damn amazing. If I all I needed was a way to sell a handful of books (say, my own output as an author) then this would be an excellent alternative to affiliate links, Amazon widgets, or even more convoluted work-arounds.
It’s not a way for every aspiring Bezos to launch an online bookstore, though. What you can assemble (in an afternoon) is suitably impressive but the UI, UX, and purchasing experience won’t match a dedicated internet sales site. But I doubt it is supposed to, at this phase.
As Aerbooks put the polish on this platform, I think we’ll see even more value to users (and the users’ customers). My own wish would be for even more book and DVD titles (and perhaps other products?) but that’s because as a one-time corporate ‘big box’ bookseller, I’m used to sitting atop an inventory system that has twelve million listings, not just two. The ‘social media’ side of the pitch makes for good press releases, but the integration isn’t quite as seemless as is currently promised — don’t think this adds ‘one click’ shopping to your tweets. Clicking the social media buttons is certainly easy enough, though (at worst, you’ll have to copy and paste some html, the same that Amazon affiliate links require).
I plan to continue playing around with the store and the widgets, and testing the limits. Indeed, I may have to go back to writing up book reviews, just so I have a place to put the links. :)
Aer.io is still in beta, so I expect a lot of ‘fixes’ will be put in place before there are public sign-ups. The core functionality here (the idea of a quick, seamless online store that any blogger or creator can implement) holds a lot of promise, though. I’d ask Aerbooks to work hard on the supply side, making more books available (and getting publishers and distributors to fix the online listing info!) while keeping this particular back-of-store interface and feature set largely intact — I found nothing in the beta that was ‘broken’.