E-book discovery by readers has been much in the news lately, and it’s definitely an issue for authors, especially those who are self-published. While readers continue to find their next great book in online stores, some still browse brick and mortar bookstores. Wouldn’t it be nice if they could find and buy e-books in a store? No, not showrooming Books-A-Million to buy a book on Amazon. Buy actually buying the e-book in the store, so that the author and the store both make money on the deal.
Bitingduck Press has an answer. It’s still new, so don’t look for it yet in your local independent bookstore, but if they’re successful, they may be in stores in the future. Chris Lindensmith, a reader of this site, brought their service to my attention in a recent blog comment, and he kindly agreed to an interview about a new product called WebBytez.
TeleRead: What is WebBytez and why should authors, bookstores and readers care?
Chris Lindensmith: The very shortest answer is that it’s an affiliate program that lets us sell digitally sold and delivered products in physical places and properly credit the physical seller for the sale.
What that means is that you can go to a store that carries one of our titles and scan a code that’s on a postcard or a copy of the book to go to our website and browse and buy the book there. What’s special is that if you then buy the book, we give a significant portion of the sale price back to the physical seller (it doesn’t have to be a store even — it could be a club or a school fundraising group) who introduced you to the book.
We do it by providing each of our affiliates custom printed cards, and even copies of books that have a QR code on them that both link to our store and tells us who introduced you to the book. If you then buy that book (or any other) direct from our site, the affiliate gets credited for the sale. We continue to give affiliates the same credit for introducing us to a customer if that person makes more purchases.
Authors, bookstores, and readers all have different reasons [for] why they should care:
For authors, it’s another way to get visibility out of the enormous crowd of books published each year, and lets you get into physical locations (not just bookstores) to get more direct access to the right audience. Many people still like to buy books based on recommendations from their favorite bookstore employee, or barista, or expert in their hobby, and they access that person at a place. We can put e-books into that place in a convenient way.
For bookstores it’s a way to stop being a showroom for someone else’s online sales — people can come into the store, browse the books and cards, and if they’re interested in one of our titles, they can buy the e-book right there and download it, and the bookstore gets credited as if they had made the sale. We give them a split comparable to what they’d get from a paper book, and they don’t have to handle any of the checkout. For postcards they don’t even need to worry about inventory — we provide them free, and they have no intrinsic value (unless you get it signed by the author!) Readers can browse, and even take a few postcards home to decide on later, and the store still gets credit. We continue to give the store credit for future sales to the same customer as an incentive, but we really want readers to go back to the store and keep those spaces open.
For readers, it’s a way to be able to browse the way they want and read the way they want, while supporting their local “third spaces” and favorite shops. We publish both e-books and paper, and we still like to browse in stores. It’s nice to have a place where other readers go and where you can get recommendations from people who spend a lot of time thinking about books. WebBytez can help to keep those spaces there.
(Note: I like that part about baristas. Imagine a local coffee shop offering this, and displaying a postcard about “Our current great read” or something like that. As an author, it’s a great way to get found in unusual places, which is in line with advice found in books like this one, Successfully Marketing Your Novel In The 21st Century [written by a friend of mine and full of fantastic out-of-the-box marketing ideas.]) –Juli
TR: What made you decide to start this service?
CL: It really came up shortly after we started the company — we were going to our first book fair and trying to figure out, “how do you showcase and sell e-books that are normally purchased and delivered entirely digitally?” That led to the use of scannable codes to take people to the books online. Which led to [us] wondering, How do we make it so we can sell our e-books in physical stores? The store needs to get a cut, but the reader needs to be able to just scan the book and buy it — there are other systems out there where the reader buys something at the register and then gets an activation code and then has to go online and use the code. WebBytez is simpler and more convenient, and eliminates the need to even have a register. It also makes it simple for stores that don’t normally carry books to sell just a few that are related to their other products.
TR: How do you see it fitting in with the overall shift to both a) buying books online, and b) the growing market for e-books?
CL: It’s another way for authors to get connected to readers much more directly. Being visible (for authors) and looking (for readers) through the huge number of books on the market can be very daunting. The third spaces that physical stores provide are still great places for matching authors to readers.
TR: How many bookstores/channels have signed up?
CL: We’re only just getting started with it, so we just have a few retailers in the Bay Area (we’re down in Los Angeles) carrying WebBytez cards as a beta test — we haven’t had the cards out in the wild for very long, but we’re getting a good response. Right now, because we sell direct from our own store, we only sell our own titles with WebBytez, but we’re looking into expanding that, as well.
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So as I said in my intro, they aren’t quite the answer to authors’ discovery dreams just yet, but I do think they’re heading in a good direction, which could be a real boon to indie bookstores in the future.
Thank you, Chris. If you have any further questions, feel free to ask them in the comments. He’s agreed to stop by and answer.