Kickstarter Offers Platform for Indie Bookstores to Partner With Publishers on Pre-Order Campaigns

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Kickstarter is looking to hear from independent bookstores that are interested in partnering with publishers and authors on pre-order campaigns to promote new and exciting titles.

Kickstarter logoAccording to Margot Atwell, Kickstarter’s director of publishing, indie booksellers who partner with publishers through Kickstarter to handle fulfillment for pre-order campaigns will get access to the platform’s community of over 1.6 million publishing backers, including the fanbases of authors with pre-existing followings through the platform. In addition, she said, Kickstarter being a recognized brand name speaks to the problem of readers who default to Amazon as their point of sale for pre-orders.

“We’re increasingly seeing publishers doing pre-order campaigns for their books, and we’re seeing more and more readers who are willing and even excited to place these pre-orders. But we’re also seeing that bookstores are being cut out of these pre-sales, and that’s a really disturbing trend to me,” said Atwell. “Brick-and-mortar bookstores, especially independent bookstores, are some of the greatest heroes of our bookselling and literary landscape, and if there is a new model that takes a lot of the risk out of publishing and bookselling, I think indie bookstores should be at the forefront to get the benefit of this.”

Some of these benefits include gaining the ability to connect deeply with a community of readers who love an author’s work and with book lovers who want to support independent bookstores; creating excitement with the visible success of the project and keeping a campaign’s momentum building with stretch goals; owning your own data and getting direct access to the readers who pre-order the book, along with stats about how they discover the project; and facilitating word-of-mouth as the project’s backers get their copies and share their excitement on social media, review the book online, and recommend the book to their friends.

In addition, booksellers that work with Kickstarter can report their pre-order sales to NPD Book and The New York Times bestseller list and get expert advice from the Kickstarter Publishing team to help create a successful campaign.

“I think a lot of the time on Kickstarter people aren’t just looking to read the book, they’re looking to connect more deeply with the writer, the illustrator, or the property. We see that in a lot of Kickstarter campaigns — it’s not just that you can order or pre-order the book, but you can also get a tote bag, a T-shirt, a beautiful print illustration, or even the author Skyping into your book group,” said Atwell. “Readers are hungry for that kind of connection, which is often facilitated by social media, but in some ways social media has started to become a toxic place and one that is really challenging for writers and publishers and especially people from marginalized backgrounds.”

To ensure that the platform remains a safe space, said Atwell, Kickstarter has extremely strong moderation and a zero-tolerance policy for any kind of abuse or harassment, “so if we get a report that someone is harassing a creator, we have an entire department that deals with that,” she said.

According to Atwell, previous campaigns Kickstarter has done with indie bookstores include the September 18, 2018, book How to Invent Everything by Ryan North, which garnered 6,700 backers and raised $231,062. The publisher, Riverhead, offered a campaign-exclusive bandana designed by North and partnered with Strand Book Store, BookPeople, Tattered Cover Book Store, Watermark Books & Cafe, Vroman’s Bookstore, Joseph-Beth Booksellers, and The Beguiling in Canada for fulfillment.

Others campaigns have included the October 17, 2017, title Soonish : Ten Emerging Technologies That’ll Improve And/Or Ruin Everything by Zach Weinersmith, which garnered 8,300 backers and raised $331,378. In addition to a copy of Soonish, Penguin Random House and Weinersmith, who had partnered with Kickstarter on an earlier book, offered copies of an exclusive mini-book called All of Science Abridged to those who placed a pre-order, and partnered with The Strand and BookPeople for fulfillment.

Another pre-order campaign for the July 3, 2018, book Northland, garnered 281 backers and raised $12,652. The author, Porter Fox, and publisher W.W. Norton partnered to generate pre-orders and offer an online reading club with the author, and The Strand took care of fulfillment and hosted the launch party.

One of the reasons Kickstarter is hoping to increase the number of pre-order partnerships on the platform is because, as a public benefit corporation, said Atwell, the company believes that indie bookstores deserve to be recognized as entities that bring value to the book industry.

“I think it’s really important to tell the true story of how books are made, how they are funded, and who brings value to the process of making and selling books, and I think it’s important that the people who bring value to the process are compensated and able to be sustainable,” said Atwell. “These campaigns work best when they are a collaboration between the bookseller, publisher, and author/illustrator because then you are drawing from the networks of everyone who has an interest in this book’s success.”

“Having Kickstarter involved gives booksellers and publishers a tried-and-true infrastructure,” added Atwell, “but also, Kickstarter is a storytelling platform, so the video story section, the imagery, the backer updates — all of that tells a larger story that can help contextualize something like a book. The same way that going to an indie bookstore and browsing the shelves is a really enjoyable experience, Kickstarter can do a little bit of that, too. Certainly, it’s no substitute in any way, shape, or form, but you can get a little bit of that personal connection to a book project and author, whereas a lot of online retailer platforms are a little two-dimensional.”

Carson Moss, manager and buyer for The Strand, has worked with Kickstarter on pre-order campaigns with PRH, Riverhead, and Norton. He told BTW that as a platform, Kickstarter is a powerful marketing tool that offers booksellers the opportunity to make a direct connection to readers.

“When Kickstarter approached us, we thought it sounded really terrific,” said Moss. “For us, it was an opportunity to support authors we already like and to work with them, and that’s sometimes a bridge that is hard to get across. Beyond just ordering an author’s book and stacking it on the table, we like to be associated with the author and support them in a public way, so this was that kind of opportunity.”

In addition to allowing the store’s audience to forge a connection with the product and its creator, there was another bonus from a marketing perspective, said Moss.

“I think people were excited to see Strand’s name on the package and that Strand was part of the campaign. Likewise, I think people who were purchasing their book through Kickstarter also learned about who we were,” he said. “They’re seeing the books coming through us, they’re seeing our packaging, and hopefully it helps direct people to our website eventually. Of course, the main focus is supporting the author and the fulfillment, but in terms of the business side, there is the basic benefit of having a lot of sales come your way.”

Booksellers who would like to plan a pre-order campaign or who have questions about publisher partnerships through Kickstarter are encouraged to contact Atwell via e-mail.