Developing Markets

Entering or expanding sales in the developing world can be difficult for Western companies. India, SAARC countries, Africa and the Middle East each offer their own set of problems. Issues with language, culture, economics, politics, and trust abound. Solutions have not been easy, but EDU Books makes things easier.

Our library acquisitions system makes these sales transparent.

There are four sales channels for Western editions imported into the developing world. Three of those are end users, who are either using the books themselves or selling them in physical stores.

  • The bulk of academic titles are sold to libraries.
  • Some are bought by bookstores.
  • In India, some sell through online retail.

The fourth sales channel is booksellers. These are middlemen who sell to the three outlets above. Traditionally importers brought books into the country, then displayed their offerings in showrooms in a district central to the trade, Publishers Row in New Delhi being the largest. Booksellers would travel to that central district, select books, then sell them to customers in their home cities.

Today importers still have showrooms, and still, sell to hundreds of book sellers, but they also sell online themselves. Booksellers still take some books back to their home city, but they have found a more lucrative market. Buying the books at developing world discounts then selling them back into the developed world can increase a bookseller's monthly income from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand. Importers can try to slow re-importation, but they can't stop it because they depend on booksellers. Publishers are in the same situation as importers where they can slow the process, but they are dependent on the importers so they can't stop it.

EDU Books grew up outside that process. We started selling test prep books to students in our own teaching centers, which are the largest in Western India. We expanded by going to the customer, not the publisher. By the time we opened a New Delhi office, it only made sense to do it for purchasing and as a cross-dock to improve supply. We were a big bookseller with large stable sales channels and enough income to not play games.

We saw what was happening here, and saw the changes happening in developed world markets due to computers and the internet. We decided to play the long game. We built our skills with technology and our understanding of data. We started coding again (our founders are US educated engineers) and hired programmers. We started to figure out how those same forces changing the US and European markets would change the developing world. After years of research, trial, and error, within the library market and without, we got it to work.

In the US library market, service is king. A few dollars here or there is less important than the time to seek out the savings. In this part of the world budgets are so thin, and cheap labor so numerous, the opposite is true. In general, the lowest price gets the sale.

Rather than go to the importers for most supplies, we're opening direct accounts with publishers to ensure we can always be the lowest price selling directly to the library.

Our office in Vadodara
Our executive offices in Vadodara
Our office in Vadodara
A well run university library in India
Our office in Vadodara
And a well run Indian bookstore

Data Driven Supply

In the West, professors drive adoptions of course materials but have small roles in deciding what materials go into the library at their university. In the developing world, professors control both course material adoptions and library selections. Most library books are first recommended by professors, then pass through a lengthy approval process which considers budgets, the current collection, and lower cost alternatives. University libraries often buy several copies of a book to be shared among students if it is adopted for a class.

We originally built our system to handle all the institutions' library selection and purchasing needs. We took the US and European model of service first and modified our systems to match developing world institutions. Every professor had an account, recommendations were made, all workflows and budgets were managed. This failed. The systems all worked, but the jump from runners moving paper to a fully contained process was too much for the users. In retrospect, it should have been obvious that getting hundreds of users in institutions to switch overnight would be problematic.

We took the system and stripped it to the bone. Massive selection. Low price. Dependable delivery. It worked. Librarians can see what is available in the marketplace, clearly, see what lower priced editions exist for a title, get the best prices and basic service in the market. Now we're in hundreds of schools and growing fast.

We lost the potential for massive marketing channels and information, but we'll get it back piece by piece in a slow roll out. Fabian beats Hannibal.

What we didn't lose in that process was the ability to tell publishers where their books are going. Publishers supplying directly to us receive an account where they can log-in to get real-time reports which tell them the books sold through each channel to each city. It is fairly simple, all sales we have for an ISBN get tracked. You find out the results of that tracking.

As we roll out more of our original systems, and our place within the libraries becomes more secure, this data will improve along with new data being available.

We began this project several years ago with goals which were relatively easy to state, but hard to accomplish. We knew a good place in the future book trade would exist for companies which managed to solve the most pressing problems faced by libraries, professors, and publishers while allowing a natural progression to e-books. We think that as our system grows it will accomplish our aims. Our technical design and development teams draw from people who ran the back-end operations for some of the largest publishers in the world. Our understanding of your problems became more clear in working with them. We want to work with you to solve piracy and re-importation.

We want to work with you to improve both of our bottom lines.

View a sample sales report for suppliers

Supply Chain

First, we need data. Regular metadata deliveries are essential so we know which books you have to offer our customers and how much they will cost. Metadata is how your books get listed on our site.

The best way to give us metadata is through scheduled ONIX FTP deliveries. If your company does not have ONIX, you can email us Excel or CSV files. Excel can’t give the same fidelity as ONIX, and regular updates can slip due to human error, but it works. We do not process PDF catalogs due to the formatting issues, but as a last-ditch effort, we can regularly scrape your site with your permission. We try to avoid scraping.

Images can either be linked within ONIX, deposited on our FTP server or emailed to us. We have other sources for cover images aside from your deliveries, but it is always better to get them directly from you.

The most important data to us is ISBN and list price, or net price if you have different discounts for different books. Second to that are accurate weight and volume measurements. Titles, authors, descriptions and other standard metadata should come in your files, but we have other sources. So long as we have the ISBN and an accurate list price our customers can purchase your book on our site.

Often overlooked, links between ISBNs are crucial, and can be used in a variety of ways. Knowing a book is the international edition of a regular US title allows us to treat the international edition as a replacement when customers are searching for or purchasing a book. We use metadata and online previews from the US edition to compensate for a lack of international edition data, and we prevent the customer from selecting and purchasing a higher priced edition by default. Knowing one book replaces another, such as a fourth edition replacing a third, enables our customers to use our system as a tool to discover remainders and dead inventory someone else is offering them. Lastly, links to supplemental materials, competing titles, package contents and other marketing data enhance our ability to promote your books. ONIX and Excel files which link ISBNs are critical to maximizing our customers’ purchasing power and our promotion of your materials. Please help us in getting all the linking information possible.

For details on how to provide us your data please read our metadata delivery PDF.
Our simplified shipping set-up

Once your books are listed and getting orders we need to get them from your warehouse to our distribution centers. For our largest orders with the largest publishers, this can mean a direct container shipment, but most of our purchases are a few pallets which contain books for multiple locations. Direct shipping does not make sense in most situations.

To improve logistics, we have set-up two cross-dock operations with freight forwarders. One, outside the Port of New York and New Jersey, receives all LTL shipments from the US and Canada. The other, outside Port of Felixstowe near London, receives all shipments from Europe. Both these facilities receive, inspect, repack and consolidate incoming shipments to create full container loads for delivery to one of our three distribution centers (Lusaka, Zambia; Dubai, UAE; and Vadodara, India). This increases labor costs, but it allows us to find problems early, not two months after you’ve packed the shipment in your warehouse when the books are on the other side of the world. It also significantly cuts down on shipping time and costs by processing at Western speed, consuming a full container and removing a leg from just under half the books we sell.

This consolidation method is what has allowed us to bring significant cost savings to our customers on works from smaller publishers and fill out our catalog with more than just the giant academic publishers. Each day we’re making works available to our customers that were prohibitively expensive a few years back, and unheard of a decade ago. Our customers get significantly improved selection, you get increased sales and we get more, happier customers.  

View our metadata delivery instructions (PDF)