DIRECT SALES: Never Mind the Big Etailers?
McSweeney's is known for being relentlessly original in the choice of magazines, books and other offerings it puts out under its name. Like Shambhala, it built a coterie of devoted followers into a large base of fans who expect something special with each new release, whether fiction, poetry, satirical tomes or—just in time for the 2012 holidays—a lushly illustrated volume of sheet music.
Get creative with your website. McSweeney's has found engaging ways to get website visitors interested in buying books. "We have a lot of fun putting together various 'bundles' of books with common themes, and trying to come up with the right gift combo," Krefman says. "The bundles tend to sell very well." McSweeney's gets creative with website design and copy to make the bundles especially intriguing, he adds.
Offer a unique product. "If you're selling direct online, you're always competing with yourself via Amazon. Anyone who can open a browser knows that cheap books are at Amazon, so we try not to cannibalize ourselves there, and, rather, offer unique things—signed books, books with a bonus poster, a T-shirt, or anything we can think of," Krefman says.
Tailor marketing to audience preferences. McSweeney's has a monthly newsletter and, while tempted to send out direct messages more often, has found that more frequent emails tend to be opened and clicked through less frequently. Instead, it offers a free daily humor website, McSweeney's Internet Tendency, which drives a lot of traffic back to their website and its e-commerce offerings. "[The humor site] tends to bring people in, and then, hopefully, they try and figure out what else we do," Krefman says.
Trick out your website. It may seem obvious, but there are many publishers trying to do direct sales while failing to update a clunky, out-of date website. Like any type of e-commerce, direct book selling must be made simple, intuitive and pleasant, and publishers must continuously try to make the user experience better. "We completely rebuilt our store website," Krefman says. "It's been a huge challenge for us, and while it's better than it was before, it's nowhere near perfect. It's like we traded in our '87 Honda for a sturdy but not flashy Ford. Hopefully we'll put a gaudy spoiler and rims on it soon."