You walk into any major store and see a huge stand of gift cards. Now imagine that rack full of cards are all cards that represent electronic books. All the buyer of the card has to do is log in a code on the back of the gift card to download the book to any device.
That’s a very real and coming future for electronic books. But it’s not here yet. But you can count on the fact that it’s coming.
Why? Simple. Physical brick-and-mortor stores and major chains need to sell a physical product. A book card is a way to turn an electronic book into a physical product to sell in regular stores. In fact, a number of bookstore owners at the World Science Fiction convention in Reno mentioned to me that this idea might just be what saves them in a number of years as electronic book sales dwarf print book sales.
And other specialty press and small and indie publishers loved the idea as well. It took some explaining as to what it was, but once everyone realized what they were holding, that they were actually holding a regular book, they got excited.
My story of book cards and the World Science Fiction Convention.
The intention of WMG Publishing was not to make money with book cards at the convention. In fact, my intention was to go and have fun and just give the cards away and work to get other publishers to pick up the idea. No one owns this idea. No one. A company in Canada has been doing a test this summer in numbers of indie bookstores using this idea, but I have not yet heard the results.
The more major traditional publishers who use this idea, the better off we will all be. So I talked to a lot of editors and one major traditional publisher at the convention. Planting seeds.
WMG Publishing did two gift cards for the convention, both with codes on the back where a buyer could go to Smashwords and plug in the code and download the book. They could have done it on a page on the WMG Publishing website, and might down the road, but that site is not ready yet. So they just used the easy Smashwords code.
Cindie Geddes at Lucky Bat Books did a book card for a Greg Benford’s book Chiller as well that looked wonderful. She used the same form and size. So in essence there were four of us at Worldcon showing off the book card idea. That turned out to be a super thing to have four of us pushing this idea. We got to almost everyone I had hoped to get to in one way or another.
One card WMG Publishing did was for the first book of Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s Fey series, Sacrifice. The second card was for my Poker Boy short story collection, The Women of the Felt.
Each “book card” had two parts.
Part one was the plastic gift card the size of a credit card and the same thickness. The cover of the book is printed on one side, the code and instructions on the back. We used these cards alone for a sort of business card as well, since the cards had our web site addresses as well as WMG Publishing website address.
As you can tell from the image up to the left, these credit-card-sized book covers were way cool.
Part two was the printed paper cover, or gift card holder. WMG has these printed at 11 x 8.5 in trim size on heavy card stock so they would feel like a real book. (Actually in traditional publishing, this is called a “cover flat,” but we had them folded unlike regular cover flats so they ended up 8.5 x 5.5 in.)
Front page was the cover, back page was the back cover copy just like the regular book.
Inside front cover was a sample from the book to hook readers and also copyright information.
Inside back cover was the front cover of the book reprinted again with a box giving the instructions on how to download the book.
The plastic gift card itself WMG just glue-dotted in the middle of the inside back cover. (With glue dots the card can be removed and stuck back on without problem.)
We will do a bunch of things different with the next cards.
First, on the front cover it will say right across the top “An Electronic Book” in very large letters, on both the front and back.
Second, on the inside, instead of reprinting the cover, WMG will do what Cindie did with Greg Benford’s book card. On the inside back cover, WMG will put a picture and bio of the author at the top, right under the notice THIS IS AN ELECTRONIC BOOK.
Then, as Cindie did, WMG will leave the bottom half of the page white and blank so the card can be glue-dotted in the middle of the white area and be very, very clear.
Cindie, you can weigh in here in the comments to talk about what you would do different. It was great having three of these at the convention to learn how to do the next ones better. (So read the comments, folks.)
The biggest problem we had was explaining that the entire thing was an actual electronic book. People are so used to not having something physical for an electronic book, that needed to be very, very clear everywhere on the card and the book cover itself.
But once a person realized what they were holding, they loved them.
What We Used the Book Cards For
For the next few years, until book cards become more accepted by bookstores, I do not see them being economically viable for an indie publisher to produce for every book for sale. It would take too long to return the printing investment.
But WOW are they great promotion. Worth every penny.
Let me say that again. On special books and for events, book cards are worth every penny.
At the convention, Kris and I always carried at least thirty of the cards each, and we were always going back to the room to get more. We were giving them away.
Over the convention’s four days we gave away around 300 total. At our book signings, we offered everyone who wanted a book signed a free book card. And almost everyone took one and almost everyone had us sign the book card as well.
That’s right, an author can now sign an electronic book.
I also gave every book dealer in the dealer’s room five free copies of both cards to sell. The price on the back of the electronic book is the same price as we have the electronic books. So the book dealers could sell the book card and when the customer went online to get the book, they would see that the online price was the same as the book dealer sold them the book for.
A couple of the dealers had sold copies before I left, which stunned me considering Kris and I were giving them away for free at the same time.
So far, in the four weeks since the convention, we have had about 10% of the cards we gave away downloaded. That is about the number I had hoped, considering people get so much stuff at the convention, it takes time to go through it all. And many people did not have electronic devices who wanted a book card anyway. (Seems some people thought they were going to be collectable. Cool.)
I expect the total download to end up around 20%.
So my opinion.
Book cards right now are a fantastic promotion for any major event. Kris and I will be using these for the rest of the year at events and signings, plus if someone buys a book from WMG Publishing, like a signed advance order on the next Retrieval Artist novel, Anniversary Day, coming out in December, we will send along a copy of the book card as well with the book. Signed, of course.
There are a lot of promotional ways the cards can be used as electronic book reading becomes larger and larger over the next few years.
Both Lucky Bat Books and WMG Publishing used a wonderful printer out of Montana called PrintingForLess.com. WMG went with doing the orders by e-mail and phone instead of directly online because of the tight deadline. Adam and Alexa there went out of their way to make sure we got the orders in before Kris and I left for the convention. PrintingForLess.com is fairly priced and do wonderful work. (Wow, I should charge them for that commercial. (grin))
Okay, now to some math for selling book cards to bookstores eventually. (You had to know it was coming.)
WMG went with the lowest print run of 500 copies knowing we would do things wrong, so the costs were per unit higher than they would be if we had just ordered a 1,000 copies or more.
The cards were about $200 for 500 cards and the printing of the 5.5 x 8.5 full color cover stock was just over $300 for 500. So rounding, each full card cost about $1.00 to produce.
That price if we had done 1,000 would have come down to about 60 cents per full card (both pieces.) Even cheaper if we ordered more.
My The Women of the Felt short story collection sells online for $2.99. So a book dealer can sell it as well for $2.99 in book card format. (That’s the price WMG has on the back of the card.)
WMG can sell the book card to the bookstore at 50% discount, so WMG would get $1.50 per sale. (Bookstore would make $1.50 per sale.)
So even the costs at the highest amount gives about a 50 cent per card profit selling to bookstores. A 16% profit.
Kris’s Fey novel would be sold by bookstores for $4.99, the same price as the electronic book online. Bookstore would make $2.50 and WMG Publishing would get $2.50.
$2.50 minus $1.00 cost = $1.50 per book profit. 30% profit. Nice.
(Just another reason to be professional with your online pricing. You could never do this with novels at 99 cents.)
Honestly, I see book cards becoming a major way for bookstores to sell electronic books in four or five years. It’s going to take traditional publishers to jump onto the idea to make it easier for indie publishers to get book cards into bookstores.
And book cards, packaged like gift cards, have a huge market in major supermarkets and other major retail stores besides bookstores, placed right beside all the other gift cards that have already gotten into those stores.
Electronic books are clearly going to be over 50% of all books sold within five years. This is a way to get those books into reader’s hands and thousands of new markets that paper books are too expensive and large to get into.
And from the author perspective, all I can say is that they are great fun. These are fantastic promotion.
Now it is up to traditional publishers to get this going. Cindie and I gave copies of these to many New York editors and a couple major New York publishers who really, really loved the idea.
First publishers have to train bookstores.
And then bookstores have to train readers that they can buy their electronic books in a regular bookstore.
It will happen.
Copyright © 2011 Dean Wesley Smith
Cover art The New World of Publishing copyright Philcold/Dreamstime
Cover art for The Fey: Sacrifice copyright © 2011 by Dirk Berger
Cover art for The Women of the Felt Konradbak/Dreamstime
Okay, I admit it, I had issues at first with putting in a tip jar in the Magic Bakery. It was one of the “I have it made, why do I need to support my writing with tips.” A minor myth, sure, but still one that took me a few days and some talk with Kris to get past back when I started this series.
And speaking of the Magic Bakery, this chapter is now part of my inventory in my bakery. (Confused on that, read the Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing post about making money with your writing. I’m giving you this small slice as a sample. I’m giving you a taste, but not selling any of the pie.
If you feel this helped you in any way, toss a tip into the tip jar on the way out of the Magic Bakery.
If you can’t afford to donate, please feel free to pass this chapter along to others who might get some help from it.
And I would like to thank all the fine folks who have donated over this last year. Once this book is done, I will send you a copy. The donations and the comments both after the posts and privately are really keeping me going on this. Thanks!