How Independent Bookstores Sell E-Books


Credit: Flickr / ButterflySha

Contests, neon signs, bookmarks and ninety-minute customer help sessions: Some of the ways that indie bricks-and-mortar booksellers are promoting the fact that they sell e-books, according to the American Booksellers Association.

The ABA’s Bookselling This Week outlines initiatives at three independent bookstores. These booksellers are a few of the over 250 that partner with the Google (NSDQ: GOOG) eBookstore to sell e-books through their websites.

In-store customer service: Just as we saw Barnes & Noble (NYSE: BKS) promote its “always-free in-store customer support” for Nook this week, Paul Hanson of Bellingham, Wash.’s Village Books recommends that independent bookstores have “at least one dedicated e-book answer guru” who customers can e-mail. Hanson says he sits down with customers and helps them set up their e-readers and buy their first e-book, a process that can take an hour and a half. The store also invites customers to “e-book therapy” discussion sessions and has had Barnes & Noble reps come to the store.

Promoting publishers’ own promotions: When book publishers run sales on their e-books, independent booksellers have seen success announcing those promotions to their own customers through e-newsletters. Publishers’ “promotional pricing on certain titles have lowered the bar for customers to try their first e-book from us, which, I think, is the hardest hurdle to clear,” says Pete Mulvihill of Green Apple Books in San Francisco.

No Amazon: While it’s not mentioned explicitly in the article, indie booksellers are hampered by the fact that the e-books they sell can’t be read on Kindles (Kindle books aren’t compatible with the Google e-bookstore). They are trying to get around this in various ways. Green Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) ran a contest asking customers to forward its e-newsletter to friends who had non-Kindle e-readers, in exchange for the chance to win a gift card. This resulted in “a lot of referrals and a handful of orders.” The store is also passing out reviews of e-readers that are supported by the Google eBookstore.

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