Promoting E-Book Sales: One Bookseller’s Strategies

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Matt Norcross, the co-owner of Petoskey, Michigan’s McLean & Eakin Booksellers, recently talked to Bookselling This Week about his store’s strategies for e-book and online sales promotions — some successful, and others that needed a little tweaking.

The overall result of McLean & Eakin’s promotional efforts has been solid online sales, Norcross said. “But there hasn’t been a single, real game-changer. It’s a lot of little things that have had an effect.”

To promote e-book sales, McLean & Eakin advertises their availability online and in-store. Two efforts in particular have caught customers’ attention, Norcross said: a cartoon about the ad-supported Kindle, which features Edgar Allen Poe’s Raven interrupted mid “nevermore” with a Jersey Shore ad, and an e-book “how-to” poster. The cartoon carries the tagline “McLean & Eakin e-books: The same price as the big guys, none of the advertising. We sell e-books! Ask us how! Shop Local Online Anywhere, Anytime www.mcleanandeakin.com.”

McLean & Eakin takes the “Ask us how!” part seriously, he said. They always have ABA’s instruction guide for downloading e-books available, and Norcross has even gone to customers’ homes to set up Google eBook™ accounts.

McLean & Eakin also directs people to videos on Google’s Look Here page, but store staff always advises customers to purchase e-books directly from the McLean & Eakin website since the videos target the Google eBook store.

Shelf-talkers featuring QR codes have generated discussion at the bookstore, but not big sales so far. “They are a great idea, and I still think they have potential, but they have not been used by customers to the degree I’d hoped,” said Norcross. “I think they need to have a more practical function for the customer if we are going to get them to use them. If they could be used to build a wish list on our website for instance, or perhaps we need to make them link to a staff review video on YouTube.  But simply linking them to an e-book page on our website does not seem to be enough to entice a customer to use them.”

Of course, the type of e-reader customers are using can affect their e-book buying decisions. Norcross uses a Nook Color, which he has rooted to turn it into an Android Tablet. “I love it as a reader, because now that it’s rooted, it has increased versatility,” he said. “It’s also pretty inexpensive, so I’m not terrified of damaging it as I would be with an iPad.”

Norcross, who is tech savvy, did all of the rooting himself. But, he said, “I hear there are companies that will send you all the software you need on a microSD card. Just plug it into the device, and voila!”

One of those “voila” cards is Nook 2 Android, which, in addition to being easy to use, doesn’t void the Nook Color warranty and allows the user to run both Android and Nook OS. The N2Acards™ manufacturer also offers customer support.

Though Norcross prefers the Nook Color, he suggests customers experiment with different devices before buying one. “I’m careful when recommending a device and usually encourage them to try some firsthand,” he said. “There is such a difference between an e-ink screen and a traditional tablet screen, and I think the customer needs to experience that firsthand.  That said, I have rooted a couple of Nooks (free of charge) for customers, and they have enjoyed them very much. They are also now buying e-books from us!”

Among the e-readers that Norcross recommends customers try are the Nook with the e-ink screen and the iRiver Story HD e-reader because of its Google eBooks integration. (With all of this e-reader talk, Norcross took a moment to declare his allegiance to the printed word. “Keep in mind,” he stressed, “I greatly prefer physical books for my reading and almost never read a full book on a device, only when I can’t get a galley and I have to go to NetGalley do I end up reading on my Nook.”)

A recent McLean & Eakin online campaign that had “amazing” results, and was a learning experience for Norcross, was the sale of autographed copies of Michael Moore’s memoir, Here Comes Trouble: Stories From My Life (Grand Central Publishing). One takeaway from the promotion was that customers wanted to be able to pay via PayPal, he said. “Once we activated this payment option, it became clear that it was the payment method of choice for many of our customers. I’d recommend everyone look into this, and perhaps even advertise this option on their homepage. I’ve come to believe that PayPal is the currency of the Internet. I was doubtful of the service before, but it was quick and easy and the funds were easy to transfer to our bank. I was very pleased.”

IndieCommerce stores that would like to enable PayPal checkout on their websites should write to staff@bookweb.org for more information.