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Selling Books on Your Web Site vs. Providing a Link to a Bookseller

Mary Byers

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Here are the responses I received in response to this question: I have a book coming out next Spring and am struggling with deciding whether to include a shopping cart on my Web site or simply providing a link to Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I'd love to learn from anyone who's been down this same path who'd be willing to share their insight.

-- Sandra Shrift

Place on your web site and with Amazon. You will get more linking and exposure.

-- Judy Cullins

I'd say go with your own site, but be sure to have a sales letter on your site that your visitor reaches through your strong headlines on the home page. Downside of Amazon -- you have to send your book to them at your expense and get about 1/2 the price of your book. They don't market either.

-- Evelyn Clark

I just published my first book this past summer and strongly recommend that you sell it on your Web site. My book's on Amazon.com, it will be distributed through book stores, and it's available via a toll-free number through the publisher's fulfillment services, but of course, you get far less of the money when you sell through anyone else (only about 35% of the cover price through Amazon and book stores by the time everyone in the distribution line gets a cut). You should offer an e-book version, too, for those who prefer it, and that's almost all profit since it takes so little effort to convert to a manuscript an e-version and it's free to do at Adobe's Web site. So an order form on your Web site can do a lot for you now that the big job of writing the book is done!

-- Wayne Perkins

First the advantages of selling off your own Web site:

  1. If you are a speaker or trainer, this is the only way to go because you collect the name, address, phone number and email address of every customer, as well as people who want more information who you can turn into clients later on. (With Amazon.com, you do not receive information on who bought the book.)

  2. You actually get paid for your book in a timely fashion. If you are selling out of your own stock, you control the pricing. You may throw in a free report, or record a CD or tape and bundle your book and tape/CD together for a much bigger sale. Or for a fee get a 15-minute consultation over the phone leading to selling high-margin consulting services.

    With Amazon.com, if you are using the Advantage Program, (which I call the DisAdvantage Program) you give up 55% of your selling price and send free product to their warehouse. You pay the postage and have to take the time to send small quantities of your books with relatively high per/book costs.

  3. People assume that Amazon.com sells a lot of books. When you see their sales figures for any book they show you a relative figure rather than real numbers on "how many books sold." Do you know why? Because most authors, even highly motivated public speakers, usually just sell a few copies on Amazon.com each month. When you sell back of the room at an event or pre-sell a number of books for an association, you are much better off and you do get paid in a timely fashion.

  4. On your own Web site you control the "comments from other readers of the book," and testimonials.

    With Amazon.com, many books get horrible testimonials because some people, passing them selves off as readers of your book, will give a negative review on Amazon.com, and then recommend a better book. (This will usually be a friend of the author of that book who has never read your book).

  5. You stand to send more people over to Amazon.com than Amazon.com's sending folks to your Web site. In an experiment, I sold through Amazon.com's Advantage program 2 CDs (Data only e-books). Both sold for $50 each. I had links from my Web site to my product description pages at Amazon.com. I would average 12 sales/month from each of these books. Then I decided to cut the links, and fulfill from my Web site only. Guess what happened. I still averaged 12 sales/month. With 10-12 coming off of my Web site and only 1 or 2 coming from Amazon.com.

No longer do I sell the data e-books and instead have opted to selling a 6-set audio CD programs off of my own Web site. My books are still sold off Amazon.com but through my publisher and I still collect royalties.

But I see no advantage from selling from Amazon.com, especially if you are trying to sell additional products and services and speaking engagements.

-- Lee Jampolsky

I find that not too many go from my site to Amazon to buy, and it is really a matter of marketing the site so book buyers come directly to you. What I am likely to do is more marketing of my site and then do sales and shipping myself. This is a bit of a hassle, but you really can make substantially more on the book, assuming you have a publisher and are not self-published.

-- Patricia Wiklund

I've got a couple of books that are out of print so I am selling the last few I have from my site. However, it is a hassle. I have to be home to respond, and them package them up and mail them. (Most of my other products are electronic.) I have found that if they are in book stores, and Amazon or B&N still carry them, set up an affiliate link with them and then just link over. You'll still get a small amount from them, and don't have the hassle of fulfillment.

-- Andrea Kay

I have three books, with a fourth coming out, and I've never tried to sell them directly via my site. That's not to say I wouldn't, though. If I had the following, I might consider it:

  1. Other products to sell, and hence, have a shopping cart -- which I am considering
  2. The inclination to do everything it would take to fulfill orders.

This second issue drives my decision more than anything. I'd suggest deciding how you want to be spending your time. For me it's not #2.

Going through another source to sell your books has its cons, too. Your book gets sold discounted and used, for one thing. But when people and clients ask, "How can I get your books?" it's easy to say, "Just go to Amazon."

-- Larry Hehn

When it comes to selling my books, I figure that the more opportunities I create, the better the sales will be. I have done both -- selling on my site as well as providing a link to Amazon. It is much more profitable for me to sell them myself, but at the same time I want the huge international exposure that a much higher-ranked Web site like Amazon offers. Also, some people are simply more comfortable buying from a huge chain than an unproven (in their mind) vendor. As an incentive, I personally sign all copies that are bought from my site.

-- Joan Stewart

I can't think of one good reason why you wouldn't want a shopping cart at your Web site. Some reasons you MUST have one:

  • To make LOTS more money.
  • Books are the lowest profit-margin product and, often, for authors, they are a big bust financially. Depending on the topic, you should be slicing and dicing your manuscript into many other profitable products -- special reports, CDs, workbooks, calendars, board games, teleseminars, tips booklets, etc.
  • Not having a shopping cart at your Web site gives visitors the impression that you really aren't serious about selling.
  • Why would you want to give Amazon and B&N all that commission?????

I could go on, but I think you get the message.

SpeakerNet News is produced by Rebecca Morgan and Ken Braly. It is not affiliated with the National Speakers Association. Send comments or suggestions