At the Store

I’ve decided to scale back my online store and ultimately dismantle it. It was an experiment and a learning experience, and one which I began almost a year ago. It’s time to look at the data and make conclusions, then apply them.

What did I learn?

1. My readers don’t tend to buy digital content directly from me.
This might be because readers prefer to shop at a specific retailer, in order to have a record of what they’ve bought before. It might be because they don’t know how to sideload content onto their e-reader. (The number of times many people download individual free samples hints at this.) It might be because my store doesn’t have one-click buying, or a wishlist, or reviews, or who knows what other features.

I’ve also heard that readers think buying directly from the author should save them money—unfortunately, that’s not possible to do, because several online retailers require that the list price for any product has to be the same as at all other retailers or lower. That means my store can’t undercut my partners’ prices.

2. My readers like to download free content from me.
The store has proven to be a good mechanism for distributing samples of upcoming books, for example, and I could see that it might be good for bonus content. OTOH, there might be better options, if taking money isn’t an issue.

3. Free content and larger samples lead to sales.
The conversion rate (that’s what we call it when a reader buys a book after reading, for example, a sample for free, or buys book #2 after getting book #1 for free) is really good on those longer excerpts from upcoming books. OTOH, both iBooks and Kobo offer the option of my uploading those samples on their site, so readers don’t have to leave their online store to get them. I’ve done that for The Crusader’s Heart, and will continue to do so for upcoming titles. I suspect other retailers will add the same functionality, which means readers can stay in the shopping environment which they prefer.

4. Sales taxes are a pain.
Actually, they’re a nightmare. The sales tax on digital books, which changes by territory, is a huge complication and one I can live without. I’m actually very happy that so few readers bought books directly from me because it saved me a lot of bookkeeping. 🙂

5. My readers like to buy signed print copies of my books directly from me.
This is good to know – plus it’s fun to pack parcels for readers. (My assistant likes to hide temporary tattoos and signed bookplates between the book pages, for example, so they can be discovered while reading.) The sales volumes aren’t epic, though—bookplates work pretty much as well, and are cheaper to mail. Also I’m doing more reader events, so readers will be able to buy directly from me, in person. (That has to be even better, right?)

6. Postage rates are another nightmare.
Without a postage calculator integrated into the site – which looks up the rate, based on weight, origin and destination – there’s been a ton of fiddling to do. The site lets you set a flat rate for domestic or international postage, but that rate isn’t flat at the post office, even with the same weight and size of package. It’s also set per order, so the site adds the same amount whether the customer buys a single mass market paperback or five print-on-demand trade paperbacks (which weigh a lot.) My assistant looks ready to bite me when we get a print order because we either have to make a refund or ask the reader for another payment. I won’t be doing this anymore.

Instead, whenever I’m going to appear at a booksigning, there will be a pre-order form for my books so you can order, pay in advance (or know how much cash to bring), and just pick them up at the show. There will be special pricing, too, because that’s clearly popular. Readers can also request signed bookplates from me to put in books purchased elsewhere. These are always free.

For now, the store is there, but there’s pretty much only free content available for download, mostly samples of upcoming titles and family trees. I’m looking for another way to deliver that content to you and might just put it on the site here. That’s where the family trees resided in the first place and it worked well enough. The store costs me a monthly fee (because I use a premium theme) and another to accept Paypal but I don’t need either for free content. It’ll be shut down, probably by the end of October, so you can get your sample chapters of The Crusader’s Heart before it’s published. There are, of course, storefront options that have postage and sales tax calculators, but they’re more expensive applications. I wanted to see how my readers shopped before making the investment. Given these results, I won’t be making that commitment.

Thanks for experimenting with me!

Do you have any strong feelings, good or bad, about buying books directly from authors, about author bookstores in general or my bookstore in particular? If you’re an author with an online bookstore, have you seen similar results or different ones? Let me know in the comments below!

6 thoughts on “At the Store

  1. Thanks for the info, Deb! I was actually considering adding a store on my website. I’ve held off because other authors I’ve approached on this subject have expressed the same concerns as you have here. After hearing this, I don’t think I’ll be expending the time and expense of setting up a store. Thank you again for saving me the hassle. 😉

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    • Well, I think different people might have different results, Christa. Tax and postage are huge issues for Canadians, but that might be less of an issue for a US-based writer with a US-based audience. My audience is very much Canada and UK, so both of those concerns cast long shadows.

      Glad my post helped!

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  2. Interesting observations Deb. Sounds like postage and Sales tax are painful though. I know shipping to OZ from Canada and the States is EXTREMELY high at the moment. Probably to do with the Aussie Dollar not doing so well. But a lot of my online purchases are on hold because I can’t afford shipping/postage rates.

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  3. Reblogged this on betsy ashton and commented:
    I’ve toyed with opening my own store, but the stumbling blocks listed above have shown I really don’t want to do that. I’ll continue to post free samples with links to the big stores. Let them handle sales tax, wishlists, tracking. I will stick to writing and getting the word out. Thanks for a terrific post.

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    • Another thing I should have mentioned in the post is that many of my initial sales were from Canadian readers who couldn’t get print editions of my indie books in bookstores here in Canada yet didn’t want to order them from Amazon. This spring, I began to distribute through Ingram/Spark as well as Createspace, so that other booksellers could and would stock my titles.

      But I never anticipated the discounting. For example, Firestorm Forever is a huge book. The list price is $26.99US and $33.99 Cdn. But Chapters/Indigo now has the Ingram edition for sale on their website – and they’ve discounted it to $26.24, which also makes it eligible for free shipping because it’s more than $25. (It was even cheaper than that when it first listed.) So, why would a Canadian buy it from me, for $34 plus $20 shipping?

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