Content delivery on a shoestring

If you, Renegade Writer, have an ebook to sell, once you have the files in your hands, the trick is to getting it to the readers. There are the usual outlets (Kindle, Smashwords), but even with their broad reach, you’re leaving money on the table by not selling from your website.

Let me tell you right now: Selling a PDF with a Paypal button, after which you have to email the file is not a good solution. You probably know that. If you’ve done it, you know what a hassle it is. For your customer, it defeats the purpose of an ebook, which is instant gratification. You’re tired of monitoring your email; your customers are irritated with you if you don’t pony up the file in about 2 minutes. I bought an ebook that way once. That was all it took.

Mike Cane pointed me to this: Massive Sqwertz for Indie Comics, which outlines a delivery system that is essentially manual (the part where you constantly manipulate your email filters). There are some good ideas there that I’ve had on my to-do list for some time, such as the SMS and QR code enabling, but at the moment, because I am on a shoestring budget, those tools compete with more high-priority customer needs (in my opinion).

Your goal, Renegade Writer, is to automate your delivery system without spending more than about $0.

I’ve said before that I’m not a visionary: I’m an implementer and streamliner of good ideas. The best one I’ve seen yet was Samhain’s My Bookstore and More (which is apparently on hiatus). It had everything:

1. Drop-down menu

2. Automated delivery

3. Perpetual bookshelf with unlimited downloads

4. Ability to redownload different formats (i.e., if you bought a title, you bought all formats)

5. Live files you can open immediately from your wifi device

That’s what I wanted. I contacted the people who built their site and about swallowed my tongue at the price. I’m a nanopress. I can’t afford that. Neither can an individual author. ZenCart and its ilk (free) are, I think, capable of doing this, but I really haven’t had time to delve into it for the exactly four titles B10 and Peculiar Pages have, which will expand to at least six by the end of the year.

My need to have a comprehensive perpetual bookshelf (defined as re-downloadability of different live-file formats) warred with my need to allow the customer to own all the formats. I couldn’t find a free shopping cart that would do that. (For one good discussion of shopping carts, go to Crystal Williams’s blog, Big Bright Bulb.)

So I had to choose between giving a customer ALL the formats and giving the customer a single live-file format (which would then necessitate me emailing the others).

It’s not a perfect solution, but I can’t afford a perpetual bookshelf. However, it sure beats any type of manual delivery system that depends on you, Renegade Writer, sitting guard over your email.

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/mikecane/status/26031535081656320″]

 

Perhaps the addition of SMS-enabled and/or QR code-enabled purchasing (if I can integrate it with my current shopping cart) will change my mind to favor the live file.

1. Domain name (~$15/year)

2. Webhosting (~$60/year)

3. WordPress installation ($0)

4. WP eCommerce shopping cart ($0)

5. Not having to tend my email 24/7 and having pissed-off customers (priceless)

7 comments

  1. Mike Cane - Reply

    QR Codes will be big. But NFC (Near-Field Communications) will bury them because no one wants to dick around even with taking a picture of a QR Code. NFC will enable acquisition — brochures, website URls, et al — so easy that even OPRAH could do it.

  2. S.L. Armstrong - Reply

    I know I’m lucky in that my husband does this for a living. We were able to buy a small webspace (though we’re moving to a bigger, better space around spring) cheaply, and he coded everything. Storm Moon Press has the bookshelf functionality with all formats downloadable, as many times as the customer wants, instant delivery, and with Paypal as our shopping cart (though that will also change when we move to the better space).

    It’s important, IMO, to have all those things. I also know just what he would charge people for writing up the same sort of thing for them. It’s not for every author or micro press, as it can get very, very expensive.

    I think this is where bartering is a great tool. Making professional relationships and then swapping services is just such an invaluable tool!

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  4. Baldur Bjarnason - Reply

    You made a good point on twitter that perpetual bookshelves are very valuable in the romance e-reading community. The exact requirements readers make are going to differ from genre to genre, but I have several… questions about both the original article that Mike linked to and about your requirement of a perpetual bookshelf.

    First of all, a perpetual bookshelf is very hard to integrate without losing sales. I’ve been working on a cart/sales system for the software company I work for. It has, essentially, what you’d call a perpetual bookshelf: every user has a page they can log into where they can access and download all of the software they’ve purchased, even switching to a different platform (one piece of software sold runs on several different OSes, for example).

    So, a perpetual and updated library of of software, each with different ‘formats’ that the buyer can access and download at will.

    The problem is that this requirement, unavoidable for a variety of reasons, is extremely hard to pull off without scuttling sales. Requiring an account in the sales process or worse, setting an account up somewhere in the sales process, is a very reliable way to kill your sales conversion rate.

    And I can’t see how you could have a perpetual bookshelf (or software library) without some sort of account system.

    If the reader expects to be only dealing with a few publishers on a regular basis then I can see them wanting an account and a perpetual bookshelf at those publishers’ sites for convenience’s sake. I really don’t think it’s likely that they’d want anything like that with a smaller publisher who they might only deal with once or twice a year.

    Again, I concede that this is going to differ from genre to genre and demographic to demographic but this is a feature that in my experience (which is mostly from selling indie software on the web, similar process but different market) is both likely to lower sales, specifically the conversion rate, and consume a lot of resources to implement and maintain.

    Not to mention support costs. An account system can easily consume more support resources than the product itself.

    My beef with the original post (the one Mike linked to, not this one) is that there are a bunch of perfectly good services, most originally developed to sell software, that have been used to sell ebooks, music and virtual goods that are more reliable, easier to use and more effective than the dumb, manual, and hand-rolled solution the original outlines. I mentioned a few of them on twitter: Pulleyapp, Cartloom, e-junkie[^1]

    Now, I don’t think any of those three would fulfil your requirements, I think only Cartloom offers a “Product Spinoff” feature which “allows you to sell variations of a single product” but I think any of those three would more than do the job for a lot of indie pubs/writers, even if they won’t do for all of them.

    Anyway, YMMV, IMHO, my ecommerce experience is in a different industry and all that. The usual qualifiers 🙂

    [^1]: http://pulleyapp.com/ https://www.cartloom.com/ http://www.e-junkie.com/

  5. David Burch - Reply

    Just a thought, but how about a private WordPress membership site as a perpetual bookstore?

    A rough sketch…
    1. Install WordPress in a store subdirectory.
    2. Install the Wishlist Member or a similar plugin (I know of a cheaper one that seems to work well).
    3. Create a separate membership level for each product by post or category.
    4. Create a post or page containing a public description for each book. Add a more tag to create a private area in the post and put the links to the download files and technical instructions after that.
    5. Wishlist integrates with PayPal. They purchase, receive an email with details how to download, and are also redirected to a page where they create a login at your store.
    6. They login at your store and they have access to all the product downloads they have purchased.

  6. Elizabeth - Reply

    David, you and I did converse by private email, but I wanted to respond here, too. I have been giving a lot of thought to this and I think it’s a brilliant idea. I’ve put it on my to-do list. If you don’t see it anytime in the near future, it’s just because I haven’t gotten around to it yet.

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