Independent Bookseller Finds Online Niche With Autographed Books

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Bookseller Luanne Kreutzer

Bookseller Luanne Kreutzer has sold autographed copies of new books since she purchased the St. Helens Book Shop in St. Helens, Oregon, 11 years ago. But until this holiday season she had never sold any to customers in Israel -- or Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Sweden. This growth of an international customer base -- and significant domestic Web sales -- was the result of a special online promotion that Kreutzer launched with the cooperation of Chuck Palahniuk, author of Lullaby, Survivor, and Fight Club.

Author Chuck Palahniuk

If the results of the project were global, the initial planning was decidedly local. Last fall, Kreutzer approached Palahniuk (who lives about 30 minutes from her store) at the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association fall trade show with an idea. Would he be interested in designating her store's Web site as the online retailer of autographed copies of his titles? "He had been to our store for a signing last December [2001]," Kreutzer told BTW, and, when she made the pitch to him, she explained that "we're working on an Internet project, and we'd like to sell your books online." Kreutzer said that suggestions from booksellers who had sold autographed books online and from Jay Gesin, owner of, a Web site consulting firm for independent bookstores, were important catalysts for the sales initiative.

Palahniuk was encouraging, she noted, but also said that other booksellers had approached him with similar ideas only to fail to follow through on them.

For St. Helens Book Shop, a key component in execution was establishing a relationship with Palahniuk's fan Web site, The site offered visitors the opportunity to purchase copies of Palahniuk's books from other online retailers, but the important aspect of this agreement was that St. Helens would be the exclusive source for autographed copies. Working with the site's Webmaster, Dennis Widmyer, Kreutzer set up the fan site as an affiliate of St. Helens Book Shop, which is located on the Web at [For more on the affiliate program, click here.]

Beginning last December, began featuring the offer to purchase signed books from St. Helens Book Shop. In addition, 17,000 registered visitors of the fan site received an e-mail with full details. In late November, the home page of also began prominently displaying the autographed books offer as well.

Almost immediately, the store began receiving orders, and, as of this week, 140 copies of various titles have been sold.

While the logistics of scheduling visits by the author to the store to sign copies, packing and shipping, and dealing with the occasional credit card billing issue has "definitely been a learning process for us," said Kreutzer, she characterizes the project as a unqualified success, resulting in sales, increased Web traffic, and e-mail addresses for future marketing efforts. "That's very good for us. It helped me do better than last Christmas … it definitely helped the gross sales."

"The lesson in this is to talk to the authors in your area who might have a strong following. They would probably appreciate the opportunity to do this," said Kreutzer. "We continue to have one to two orders a day… The best thing has been getting books into peoples' hands that are appreciative of them." -- Dan Cullen