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Are You Making This HUGE Book Marketing Mistake?

I *hate* greeting card shopping.

Greeting Card Display - Photo by Kevin P/morguefileRecently, I popped into my local CVS to grab a Valentine’s Day card for my niece.

It started out as a positive experience. I approached the sparkling red and white display of Valentine’s cards with a smile on my face, imagining how excited my niece would be when she received a special note from her (favorite) aunt in the mail.

I picked up the first card that caught my eye because it had a cute puppy on it.

Then I checked out another with sparkly hearts.

I picked up one with flowers and one with a cute poem. I grabbed another with a Charlie Brown cartoon and opened another one with a teddy bear. I checked out one with Minnie Mouse and one with a rainbow and at least three others with more sparkly hearts.

Pretty soon, I’d gone through every card in the kids’ Valentine section — at least 30 cards in all.

I didn’t hate any of them and I didn’t love any of them, but I was overwhelmed by all of them.

Too many choices!

Frustrated that I couldn’t decide on a card, I stomped out of the store in a huff.

Whether it’s greeting cards or shampoo (Which one will really make my hair all shiny and flouncy like the girl in the commercial?) or cereal or car insurance, having lots of choices does not always make us happy customers.

So why do we do it to our readers?

I’m talking about a very specific mistake I’ve seen a lot of authors make (and truth be told, I used to make it myself).

You give your readers too many choices for buying your book.

Here’s how it happens:

You publish your book and pay for the additional distribution package (as you should). Now your title is available all over the web — at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, etc.

And that’s just the paperback.

Add in your eBook options (the aforementioned three plus Smashwords, iTunes, Kobo, etc.) and suddenly you’ve given your readers 9 – 10 choices to make before they can purchase your book.

What’s wrong with choices?

We’ve been conditioned to think that more is always better — especially when it comes to options, right?

A few years ago, a social psychology graduate student conducted an experiment at her local market that proved exactly the opposite.

She set up a sample stand of jams and alternated between offering customers 6 and 24 varieties of jam. She discovered that even though the 24 choices attracted more attention, only 3% of people who stopped made a purchase, but when she displayed only 6 choices, customers bought jam 30% of the time. [Read more about the study here]

I’m pretty terrible at math, but even I can tell you there’s a significant difference between 3% and 30%.

How does that translate to book sales?

If your website lists 9 – 10 options for readers to pick where they should buy your book, you are losing sales.

I guarantee it.

You’re forcing readers to not only make the decision to buy your book, but then to weigh the pros and cons of each retailer before deciding where to make their purchase. As they analyze their choices, readers often find themselves in “analysis paralysis.”

They become overwhelmed and they make the easiest decision of them all — they choose not to buy anything.

So how do you fix analysis paralysis?

You should have one paperback choice and two eBook options. That’s it.

And I’ll tell you something else — your paperback choice should be Amazon. Not only is it the most popular online bookseller, it has the best shipping options, which is an important factor in the cost of your book.

For eBooks, I would strongly suggest Amazon and Smashwords (Obviously if you’re doing KDP Select you will only have one option!).

The reason we can offer two options in the eBook category is because we don’t have one universal format for eBooks just yet, so you can cover your bases with the most popular option (Amazon) and offer the rest of the available formats via Smashwords.

STOP! Really important point coming in 3…2…1…

Please note: I am *not* saying you shouldn’t have your books distributed to other retailers.

I’m saying you should limit the purchase options you give readers on your website and your social media networks.

It’s fine to have your books available on Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, Kobo and the rest. You never know when someone might be searching through titles on any of those sites and come across yours.

But where your marketing plan is concerned, you should avoid overwhelming your readers with too many options.

As an added bonus, driving your readers to three specific places will save you time when choosing links to share on Twitter, Facebook, in your Media Kit, etc.

What do you think?

  • Do you get overwhelmed when you have to make too many decisions for a purchase?
  • How many purchase options do you offer readers?
  • Have you recently reduced your purchase options and noticed a difference in sales?
  • You’ve got a point there. Thanks, I will implement that.

  • jennastamps

    Thanks so much for the insight! I’m looking forward to this prep once I get my first book finished. I’m getting there…

    • Hooray! Good luck with wrapping things up Jenna, let us know if we can be of any help. :-)

  • The main reason I don’t shop at Tesco’s – a whole aisle of butter to choose from – please! There’s a handy little tool available at “Viewbook.at” . It gives one link that will take your potential reader to the correct Amazon site, no matter which country they’re in. Saves having to put up links for the dot com & dot UK etc Amazon sites.

    • That’s a great resource Julia, thanks for sharing! The grocery store is definitely the ultimate source of choice overload. :-)

    • Thanks for the link, I’ve been looking for something like this.

  • I’m not sure I agree, Shannon, though I may be misunderstanding you (not too clear on your distinction at the bottom, so perhaps you can elaborate?). I can’t quite see the difference between having my book available on Barnes & Noble, Kobo, etc., and offering choices. At this point, these choices are choices of format. So when a reader is searching through the “choices,” they’re often simply looking for the format they need. To restrict those choices may eliminate that format. Unless I’m misunderstanding you. How do you offer fewer choices without eliminating format options?

    • Hi Monica! I know it’s a little confusing. Basically I’m saying you can have your book available in all the formats you want, but when it comes to your website you shouldn’t offer more than three options. It’s natural to think we are doing the right thing if we put 10 links on our website to all the different places where readers can buy our books, but actually we’re overwhelming them. We should only use 3 links on our website and use those same three links in social media. It’s simplifies things for us and for our readers. :-)

    • Geoff Wakeling

      The problem I see with this, however, is that ereaders already limit people’s access. If someone comes to my website and they have, for example, a Kobo yet see no link, they may well think my book is not available to them. People don’t like Smashwords – at least not my readers. They don’t understand the website, and they don’t want to download an epub which they then have to transfer to their reader.

      I understand what you’re saying in terms of paperbacks – send people to one place. But I don’t want my readers to think they can ONLY buy my books on Amazon if, in fact, they’re available on B&N, Kobo and iBooks as well. At the end of the day, it’s still one book…not 30 as in the Valentine’s Day case. If they want to buy it, they want a quick link to their preferred format.

    • That’s a valid point Geoff. The eBook situation does throw a wrench in things because there’s no universal format that everyone can use on their device of choice. I think at the end of the day, you just have to get to know your readers and what their preferences are (which it seems you have done quite well!). I do see some hesitance with people using Smashwords and I hope they will continue to improve their site so people will become more comfortable with it — it sure would be nice to have one universal place that offers all eBook formats! :-)

    • Geoff Wakeling

      It would be lovely to have one universal ebook format to be used on any device! 😀

    • Insatiable Booksluts

      I’m a little late to this party, but if you’re talking about on your website.. you could possibly sell the ebooks directly from your own website and minimize that choice even further (unless you’re doing KDP Select, of course). I know publishers who, if you buy one of their ebooks directly, will send you a zip file with multiple formats–handy, too, if someone decides later to upgrade their device to a different one that uses a different format.

    • Totally agree with you, Geoff.

  • Very good point. Based on my sales and trends over the last couple years, I would suggest offering buttons/ links to:

    -Amazon for the paperback
    -Amazon for the Kindle version
    -either Kobo or perhaps B&N for the EPUB
    -iBooks for the iPad EPUB

    Since you can now publish directly to all the major retailers (B&N, Amazon, Kobo, Apple), and without an ISBN, you can bypass any aggregator and thus make more in commission, have more control over your format conversions, have more control over the book/ author description page/ formatting on each retailer’s site, and have your latest version, revision, or price change up for sale much, much quicker (ie hours or days instead of weeks or months).

    -Doug (author of The E-Book Handbook and numerous dSLR camera guides)

    • Excellent advice, Doug! It’s always a good idea to keep a close watch on your sales numbers and adjust your purchase options accordingly. Getting to know your fans and watching your website stats will definitely help you figure out which three purchase options are the best to offer your fans.

  • Bette A. Stevens

    Great article. Great timing. Great advice! I just went through the same Valentine decision dilemma at Walmart. Selected and purchased my cards, out of sheer necessity. Books, on the other hand are not an essential purchase. THANKS!

    • Good point Betty! There’s so much that goes into someone’s purchase decision, too, but the more factors in that process that we can control, the better! Glad you enjoyed the post. :-)

  • I have three options for a short stories book – Amazon (CreateSpace), Kindle and Smashwords. As this is geared to teachers, I offer a free pdf copy and/or an A4 hard copy which I print myself. As I started marketing this week, I’ve had quite a few requests for the e-book and the teachers look at my website and ask for other e-books – it’s all about exposure. Even though I’ve been marketing for 8 years, I need to engage newly graduated teachers as well. We now have an all-Australian curriculum now so my flyers emphasise where my textbooks fit in

    • That sounds great Michael! Congrats on the book and continued success. :-)

  • Jemima Pett

    Many years ago, our Marketing Director told us ‘Choice sells, variety confuses’ That was why we only had limited choice among the products we sold. Lots of products, but only about three of the same type of thing.

    I think there are two aspects for this: 1 if you know your customers like Kobo, you need to tell them where to get it at Kobo. 2. If you are showing your books on your website, they need to know where they can get them. So you need to filter from one direction OR the other. Chosen Book x? buy it here for the paperback, here for the kindle (check here for other eReaders) here for the audiobook. OR Got a Nook? buy book x here, book y here, etc.
    I have the covers for my ebooks on my front page linked to the smashwords page for me; the paperback links to the createspace page, and I have the iBookstore button on the top as well. BUT the pages for each individual eBook list all the links.
    That’s my interpretation, don’t know whether it’s right or not :)

    • Hi Jemima! I like your interpretation. :-) That’s actually another marketing/sales strategy — filtering your products by category definitely helps to reduce “analysis paralysis” by guiding readers through their choices in a way that’s much less overwhelming. Definitely not a bad idea at all! Thanks for sharing. :-)

  • I’m afraid you need to have all these choices now. People have different reading devices. People need ePub to read on a Nook, and mobi to read on a Kindle. You can’t read ePub on Kindle. So what happens if you only publish in Kindle, they hate paperbacks, and a reader owns a Nook? Then you’ve just lost a sale by NOT having the choices. I get where you’re coming from re gift cards, but books aren’t the same thing.

    • That’s a good point Jessica! Just curious, have you ever polled your readers to see if one device is more popular with them than another?

      Just to clarify though — I’m not saying you shouldn’t publish in all eBook formats, I’m just saying it’s a good idea to limit the purchase links you provide from your website. I could see maybe just mentioning what formats its available in, however.

      I also wonder how many people buy an eBook from a direct link on an author’s site. I know with my Kindle Fire it’s much easier to get it through their store than to buy it on my computer and try to transfer it to my device.

      It’s definitely food for thought and I hope the eBook industry will come up with one or two universal file types in the future to make it a little simpler for us and our readers! :-)

  • I totally disagree. Your Valentine card and jam analogies refer to the quality and variety of the PRODUCT not the purchase method. Marketers know that consumers are loyal to their favorite channels (in-store, electronic via Amazon, etc.) so putting your book in as many places as possible where consumers can find them is a best practice for improving sales.

    The jam example could probably be applied to say “identify your brand or niche.” I’m sure the six flavors were the most popular ones and therefore more easily selected from. The Valentine example obviously means “Write a book people won’t just like but love!”

    • Hi Christine! I get where you’re coming from, but I think both analogies still apply because it’s all about the element of choice. If an author gives me 6 options of where to buy their book, I feel compelled as a consumer to check out all six to compare them — are they all the same edition? Are they priced the same? That’s a lot of small decisions within the scope of a larger decision that I have to make just to buy a book. That’s a bit of a burden to put on a reader who has come to your website hoping to find an enjoyable read.

      But as always, the advice we provide comes from our experiences, so they may not apply to everyone. I’m happy to agree to disagree and if nothing else we’ve got a lively discussion that will make us all think about our readers’ buying experiences! :-)

    • Virginia Munoz

      Do you really check out all six vendors when you go to buy a book? I don’t. I just pick the one I’m always using, and since Amazon price matches, I can be pretty certain that the Amazon price will be pretty close to the others.

  • Sylvie Fox

    I totally agree. What I did on my website is offer Amazon ONLY on most pages. On the book page, I offer Amazon & B&N. If you click a toggle button (that say’s ‘everywhere else’) THEN you get more options. I get overwhelmed with that on authors’ sites (as well as those with no BUY links – but that’s another story)

  • I agree. I hate the long line of lists where people are avaiable, but you can list them nicely on your website. I encoirahe the people in oir blog group to display a couple of small pictures of their books with links around their Facebook page link. The rest of the links they can get elsewhere.

  • Wykedraven

    Good article as usual. Would like to point out you always get a chuckle out of me. Mostly because you are genuinely and seamlessly amusing. thanks, on both the informative and comical fronts.

  • Duane A. Couchot-Vore

    Exactly! I’ve noticed that. Especially cold medication: 154 different combinations of the same four ingredients. It’s just insane! I don’t have time to spend hours browsing the shelves, so I just get the four ingredients.

  • Virginia Munoz

    Hm. I don’t get confused because I always use the same vendor. It’s not like I’ll choose Kobo one day and Smashwords the next. Jam, now, depends on my mood…

  • Suzanne D Williams

    I would caution people about using Smashwords. I had books pirated from there en masse, and found out they use no form of encryption at all. When I stopped using them, the problem became almost non-existent.