Monday, August 29, 2011

MARKETING MONDAY - Physical eBooks or How Software Sellers are Changing the Way We Sell Digital Media

In the DRM argument, we're all probably familiar the pirating wars started by Napster and hardlined by the RIAA lawsuits. It was major music labels vs. the artists who want to share their music. The artists argued they didn't mind pirates, believing (rightly IMO) that for every pirated song, there is at least one CD sold (meaning they sell a dozen songs for each one that is stolen).

In the eBook wars, DRM is also a favorite of the Big Publishers (Five, Six, choose your number, it's the multi-national mega-corporations who've merged and acquired nearly every viable small DTB publishing house out there until the gap between themselves and the actual authors is so vast, even Literary Agents sometimes are lost in the sea of corporate BS).

The Indie Author, typically, knows the value of giving it away free. Or at least, for a limited time in order to build readership. I do a weekly feature and since I don't have money to spare, I'm planning to do trivia contest giveaways and am soliciting "Sponsors" or "Patrons" for those vis a vis the 1000 True Fans model. (click here to read more about how to sponsor one of my book giveaways.

Kat Jordan ran across another idea blogged by one of her favorite publishing "gurus" (term used loosely by me, and probably, I suspect, by Kat), Dean Wesley Smith, or DWS (he has about a hundred pen names with initials "DWS" so it's easier to just call him by his initials). He talked about selling eBooks to brick-and-mortar bookstores. (You can click here to read the whole article. I'll refer to it often below).

The Physicalization of a Digital Product

Okay, first a little about my background. I've been using computers and networks since the 1980s, back in DARPAnet days, back when 9600 baud was like, light speed man! I was one of maybe 20 females on the net worldwide. It was pretty funny. It was also pretty exciting when the Tim Berners-Lee first defined HyperText Markup Language (HTML) on the Macintosh OS (it was called HyperCards back then) and even more so when we created a network of HyperLinks on DARPAnet which he called the international web or later, worldwide web (and W3C was born).

I was involved with a bunchaton of web development groups--that is, groups who worked to define and develop and innovate the "thing" which was being called "the web" and in 1994, a year after some student at Carnegie-Mellon named Marc Andresson first had the gall to put images onto Tim Berners-Lee's "academic web" I opened shop as Phoenix Rising Enterprises, a Web Design & Development company doing Internet Consulting and Graphics Design for web sites--which was a very different beast back then from designing graphics for print production.

My point is, I've seen how this has gone in the past. We have a digital product. We want real people in real-world businesses to pay real money for this non-tangible thing we claim exists in the digital world. We show them lots of pretty pictures. See? You click on this here bell and it does that really kewel whistle. Yeah, we learned in the 1990s how to sell the intangible pixelated products that were web sites. No one thinks twice about buying a web site now, but it was a real psychological challenge back then.

I see the same psychological challenge happening with the sale of eBooks. I also see DWS "discovering" the same argument we did back in the 90s. Sorry, Dean, but ah, you didn't invent this wheel. Not even the spokes are new. But you sure do sell it well.

The idea is this, brick-and-mortar bookstores want a physical product, something a person physically walking  into their store can pick up in their hands and touch, interact with, take with them once they've paid money. Customers don't like to just walk into a store and hand over money but walk out literally, empty-handed. Customers like to have something to show for their expense.

Enter the brochure. Then and now. Back in the early days of the web site selling market, we used to actually print out mockups of the web site design as "proofs" because customers couldn't handle seeing it on the screen. They didn't want to touch the mouse. They wanted to touch paper. They were used to marketing brochures. They couldn't translate how pixels on the screen were going to be a digital marketing brochure.

Likewise, eBook customers don't want to spend money and have nothing to touch--at least not if they walk into a bookstore that has paper books right there! They can touch those, so why can't they touch the eBooks? The fact they cannot, at present, makes the eBooks "less" real or at least, less valuable.

In the place of a book, an eBook can have a brochure. A cardboard stock glossy that has the full-color artwork on the front, a blurb on the back like a real book, and inside, has more a brochure. Actually, the way I envision this working, you place a QR scan code on the back of the brochure to give the customer access to the digital storefront while they're standing in the physical bookstore. This means they have the same ability to "browse" or "interact with" an eBook in their hands the way they would with a paper or DTB (Dead Tree Book).

Note: a QR code that you can scan with your smartphone makes much more sense to me but Kat was talking about some "scratch off" strips instead. I worked with these in the 1990s for promotional items and do not recommend going down this path. Back then, McDonald's had just come out with "scratch off" game cards as a purely genius method of giving things away and once the lottery systems jumped on them in the mid-90s, there was no turning back. They became the de facto method of giving away "use once and throw away" concealed information. I think Kat got onto the "scratch off" strips because DWS goes off on this whole little side trip where he's virtually attached to plastic. I mean the man must love credit cards or something. It's amazing. As I said, I do not recommend going with "scratch off" strips. They're a pointless expense and hard to work with--and they damage easily when you pack and move large quantities of the cards bearing them more than once.

Instead, I recommend the b/w (so very cheap and easy to print) QR code method. You can have two on these brochures your customers interact with. One on the back to gain access to the eStorefront where the customer can read a free sample (see my Monday Marketing on the usefulness of your free sample and add this into it!) or watch a trailer for the book (if there is one). You can do all of that at any electronic storefront. DWS is suggesting that this really slick company called enThrill is the only way to do that with their special (implied proprietary) viewer but that's total BS. You can do this from Amazon. *smirk*

The enThrill guys do, however, have a really slick video explaining how all of this works (if you go with them). Note you can do all this yourself, too and not go the proprietary, tied to them path.  Watch their video and you'll see what I mean.

The path I suggest using, instead, is to create your "brochure," very similar to the way the enThrill guys show in their video, but have the printer do a fold and glue for you. Like a cardboard envelope all sealed up. It would look just like the cardboard stock folders you get containing your installation CDs when you buy software on disk. Just one difference: no disc inside. It's just a sealed "envelope book" (or another kind of "eBook" -haha-)

Nearly any printer who can do 4-color, 2-sided printing and score folds, can also form and punch a "hangar" tab for you but there's a charge for that, especially for the punching. Instead you can just buy those little plastic self-adhesive tabs at an office supply store and stick them onto your "envelope book" yourself.

So what have we got so far?

On the front of a glossy finish cardboard stock "envelope" is your full-color book cover. On the back, a QR code to access the interior material of the book and learn more. Just like Amazon's "Look Inside" operation. The "envelope" is glued shut and opening it is stealing just like opening up a box of food or medicine in any other store is stealing. You'll still have theft and the store will still expect to have "returns" of these to you but for the most part, your customers will get everything they need to close the deal. They go to the register, pay for their eBook and open the envelope.

Inside, have another QR code that actually gives them access to the book as a paying customer. Also provide instructions for downloading it, assuming your customer does not know but never speaking down to them like they're an idiot. Just be sure to make it as easy as possible for the customer to access the product they have now already paid for and think they hold in their hands. The one sure-fire way to drive a paying customer away is to not deliver after you've taken their money.

Your second, or interior QR code can be for a Smashwords coupon code page or any other method you have for giving away a free copy of the book. The one drawback, of course, is that the paid-for QR code can be shared, used repeatedly, "pirated" to friends and family all for the one price paid by the lone paying customer. It's a risk. Personally, I think it's worth the risk.

Kat's discussion and DWS's article were focused more on the idea of selling these as gift cards rather than calling them eBooks but it's the same exact thing. Someone pays for the shell, the physical "brochure" or "envelope book" and someone else opens the "eBook" and uses the interior "key" to get the book.

But wait, Sarah, you say, Kat and DWS were talking about card-sized eBooks, not brochures. True. You can definitely put all of this material into a card sized format. In fact, you can make a 6"x9" version to hang in stores and a business card sized format to carry in your wallet. Still don't need to risk "scratch off" strips, either.

I do have to point out that while my method avoids the Bad Idea of "scratch off" strips, it does incur the expense of having a print "score" and/or "fold" for you. Granted, you can do all of the scoring and folding yourself and pay less but in quantities of hundreds or over a thousand, you won't want the RSI. And then you'd have to buy a bunch of gluesticks...but it could be done at home. Have a little "eBook Making" party with your friends and get them to help. Like scrapbooking but more boring. *haha*

A reputable printer will reduce prices the larger the lot you buy but a scoring job is still pricey as they do charge you for each score-and-fold operation. On an envelope like a disc-holder there are at least 4 folds. Good news is most reputable printers who've done CD covers (not jewel cases, covers) for years have sometimes got machines set up just for this and they'll give you a cut-rate price for not having to do a special setup if you adapt your design to their machine's setup.

I'm still skeptical about the costs of this whole venture making it profitable. The profits seem to vanish unless you charge a fee/surcharge to the stores in order to make them absorb the costs of printing and assembly of the "envelope book." As DWS notes, this is 100% guaranteed not for the "budget" or 99c Indie Authors out there. You definitely have to charge at least a cover price of $4.99 a book and I don't know if you "have to" offer a book store a 50% margin. You could offer them 40% and note there are no distribution fees involved, but you're absorbing the production costs and you should offer to give them 100% reclaim on "stolen" items to help defray their shoplifting "shrink." It's a new concept for the brick-and-mortar stores so you do have to give them something more than just a percentage to use their much-coveted counter space. That's the one big advantage to the enThrill guys. They have a spinner rack they're placing inside the store. Your problem of course, becomes one of getting onto the rack--just like getting onto the shelves for DTBs.

In the long run, I think these "envelope books" or "brochure books" or "gift card books" will eventually take hold. I believe the bookstores will treat them just the same way they do regular books--eventually. They'll prefer to deal with distributors (like enThrill) and not have to deal with Indie Authors on a case-by-case basis. I think the packaging will end up being just the same as the way we often buy software today. You go into Best Buy and pick up a cardboard hangar/folder that talks about the sofwtare, take it to the register and they authorize you to download it. Done. No disc. Just like an eBook. No paper.

If I were someone who has money to spare producing the collaterals for this, it sounds GREAT. As someone who cannot even sponsor my own giveaway for a book launch trivia contest, I can't see myself heading down this path while it's still "cutting edge." I hope to jump onto it later though! One of the marketing collaterals I've needed and wanted ever since Dicky's Story came out was business cards with the URL of where to get a sample. This progression into a brochure or folder with a QR code to just get the whole book "package" is fairly natural. I definitely see it catching on. Just not on my budget in the near future.

What's Next...

I'll see you tomorrow with a Tuesday Tip from Jeremey Rodden (@toonopolis) on how to optimize your Twitter usage with handy-dandy automation tools. Yes, another entry for the Twitter series!

Indie Authors and Smashers, don't forget to enter your book in my Freebie Friday feature. This week's submissions thread is now open. Click here to reserve your spot for the upcoming long/holiday weekend (Labor Day Weekend in the USA).

Thanks for stopping by!  Shavu'a Tov l'kulam!

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