One compelling reason to self-publish is to cut out the middleman on sales. That’s an easier goal to state than to accomplish! For ebooks, most people sell through a large online store such as Amazon, iBooks, Kobo or go through a digital congregator such as Smashwords or Draft2Digital.
Print books are a different story. It’s very hard to sell direct to readers because of the infrastructure needed to warehouse the books, to accept credit card transactions, to ship books to customers, and to provide customer service.
Making it even more difficult, I use print-on-demand (POD) printers for my paperback and hardcover books, which means that I don’t have a stock of books available for sale. If I used offset printing and ordered 1000 books at a time, I’d be able to use several options to sell direct. POD is my preferred business plan, though, which means I need some workaround in order to sell directly to the public.
POD works well for sales though major online channels because most POD printers feed book metadata and sales into a major warehouse of books. Lightning Source or Ingram Spark both work through Ingrams Wholesale channel to put paperback and hardcover books into Amazon and other bookstore channels. Createspace, Amazon’s POD service, funnels paperbacks directly into Amazon.
Why you SHOULD sell print books directly to readers
But what if you want to sell paperback and/or hardcover books directly from your own site? There are many reasons why you might want to do this. First, print versions of children’s books are preferred by many parents. For those parents, if you don’t sell print books, you won’t make a sale at all.
Or, you maybe you speak at a conference and you want to offer attendees a discount for a print book. Or maybe you want to offer a discount to a group of science teachers for a print book. As the publisher, you can’t do this, unless you have an online store where you control the marketing and sales. You need a way to provide a discount coupon or code to a small group for some reason.
Online stores that provide print book sales also cut out the middleman, increasing your profit margin. It gives you the flexibility to offer a book for a 25% discount and still make a profit on each book sale.
Finally, if you could sell directly, you would “own” your customer relationship. That means you can develop repeat customers. You’d be able to respond to the marketplace by running appropriately timed sales and promotions. One of the major critiques of traditional publishers is that they allowed bookstores to own the customer and never developed direct sales. A strength of indie authors is that ability to develop closer ties with customers. For children’s books, that means you need to know who is buying your books, and especially your print books.
To sum up, customers often prefer print children’s books. If you could sell print books from your website or online store, you could cut out the middleman to make more profit, and to own your customers. Unfortunately, right now, there are no perfect answers.
Options for Selling Print Books from Your Website
1) More profit with affiliate links. If a 5-10% bump in income is your priority, you may be fine with affiliate links with Amazon.com, Powell Books, etc. The exact percentages you earn through an affiliate link will vary. For example, see Amazon’s Affiliate Fee Schedule here.
For this strategy, you will use a unique code in your sales links to send readers to Amazon/your favorite online store to buy your hardcover or paperback books. The advantage is the ease of the process. It’s a simple link and the online retailer takes care of everything else. The disadvantage, however, is that you never “own” your customers. Sales only take place on the other company’s store, not your own.
When simplicity is the priority.
When affiliate commissions are enough extra profit.
2) Online store platform, you fulfill orders. Shopify, Woocommerce (a WordPress plug-in) or similar online store platform, and you ship/fulfill all orders. Online stores work well if you do offset printing and have a stock to draw from to fulfill orders. If you do POD printing, you would have the disadvantage of ordering a stock of books, maintaining inventory, mailing books, and doing customer service. Still, it is an option that some indies may choose.
When you have some technical capabilities to set up and maintain a complex program.
When you have the capital to invest in inventory.
3) Online store platform, POD fulfills order. The trickier thing to find is a way to take orders, maintain the customer relationship, and do it all with POD printers who will fulfill the order and deal with customer service.
Aer.io/Aerobooks is an interesting option. They work through Ingram’s API and allow you to add your books and anyone else’s books that are in the Ingram catalog.
I’ve set up a MimsHouse store with them here.
The advantage is that Aerobooks will allow you to sell both hardcover and paperback books; if you upload ebooks, you can sell those, too. You can embed a store and use all of your own branding, including logo and so on.
See a Aerobook sales links embedded in a Woocommerce catalog here.
The sales page is embedded in the MimsHouse website using Woocommerce as a catalog, but the actual transaction goes through Aerobooks, who does the financial transaction, ships and does customer service, and provides you with an accounting.
You can also download a list of all customers, so you can keep your mailing list in order.
Disadvantages are the extremely limited options for customization,
and the uncertainty of their programming. I’ve tried several times to set up a discount coupon and nothing worked. I contacted the technical support folks multiple times and to date, it’s still not working. I can set a book to a general 10% off, but discount coupons aren’t working. UPDATE: Tech support set up a Skype call with me and figured out the problems with the discount codes. They rock!
REQUIREMENTS: Your books must be listed in Ingram’s catalog.
When you want to offer both paperback and hardcover books.
When you want to sell books from other authors/publishers.
When you want to own your customer info.
When you only want to offer general discounts on books.
How to Set Up Your Aerobook Store
- Create an account at Aer.io.
- On the ADD INVENTORY tab, add your books.
- To embed codes into your website for a BUY BUTTON, click on SETUP/EMBED and follow instructions.
- If you prefer to use their hosting for a store, click on STYLE and follow instructions to personalize your store.
Createspace allows you to set up an eBook sales page for each of your books. If you POD with Createspace, you can also set up a print sales page for that book. To date, Createspace only PODs paperback books, so this limits you to only paperback book sales.
The profit margin is much better for a CS-eBook sales page. Let’s assume a 32-page children’s picture book, priced at $9.99. You make a profit of $2.34 when you sell on Amazon.com; through your CS-eBook sales page, you’ll make a profit of $4.34. You could afford to give up some of that profit to create a coupon for certain customers.
The default sales page is branded to Createspace. Instead, I chose to upload a banner that uses my publishing company logo for MimsHouse.com, so it appears to be a page on MimsHouse.com.
See the sales page for I Want a Dog: My Opinion Essay here. (For a 25% discount, use this discount code when you check out: 5FETYTVY)
The advantage is that all the Createspace metadata is carried over, Amazon ships the books and provides customer service. The discount codes are set up through randomly generated codes, and you can’t customize these codes. However, the codes work easily. Amazon owns this customer, and never shares info with you.
REQUIREMENTS: Your book must be POD with Createspace.
When your priority is to provide discount codes for a certain paperback.
How to SetUp Your Createspace eStore
- Login to Createspace. From the Members Dashboard, click on the title of the book.
- On the book’s detail page go to the 4th panel and click on Distribute/Channels.
- On the next click to activate the Createspace eStore. Directly under this option, click on the link for eStore Setup.
- A new page opens with the URL (web location of your eStore) and places to add features. Such as, a banner, Continue Shopping URL,Continue Shopping Text, colors for the background, the headline, the text and links. This is where you make it your own. You should most certainly create an image for the banner so it removes the Createspace branding and logo. In the Continue Shopping URL box, I put the link to my website promoting the book: http://mimshouse.com/books and in the Continue Shopping Text box, I put a description of what to expect at that
site: More info. about the book – contents, sample pages, etc.
- At the bottom of this page be sure to click on Save Changes. You can return to the setup page to edit whenever needed.
The search for an online bookstore for POD print books has been frustrating.
On MimsHouse.com, I use WordPress with Woocommerce as a catalog to maintain a place with information on each title. Combined with the blog capabilities of WordPress, it’s makes a good combination. But Woocommerce is only a catalog right now, because I don’t maintain a stock to fulfill orders.
The MimsHouse Aero-bookstore has great possibilities that I’ll be exploring in the next few months. For example, if you sign up for the MimsHouse.com mailing list, you’ll see exclusive discounts through the Aerobook pages.
I’ll use the CS-eBook sales pages for those times when I want to offer a discount to a special group.
Right now, the options for direct POD print sales are limited, with no one company offering a perfect system. If you use a different system or program, please provide info in the comments!