Welcome to Part Two of our series on eBook gift cards. In Part One, we looked at retailers’ past offerings of eBook gift cards in chain stores, but in this post, we switch perspective and consider whether indie authors might have better luck.
Ebook gift cards have been around for at least a decade, but they have never had much success in retail stores. I first encountered the concept in 2008, when B&N College tried selling textbook gift cards in its stores. This was also around the same time that Zondervan, a HarperCollins subsidiary, offered eBook gift cards to Christian bookstores.
These two efforts have vanished into the mists of time, leaving little more evidence of their passing than the recollections of a blogger, and we discussed other similarly unsuccessful eBook gift card projects in Part One.
A Indie Author Advocate of eBook Gift Cards
One could look at all the unsuccessful attempts and conclude that eBook gift cards will never succeed, but prolific, best-selling author Dean Wesley Smith would disagree. Dean was an early adopter and evangelist of eBook gift cards and told me by email that “It's coming, only a matter of when. Ebook gift cards are the perfect cross between electronic and physical.”
Dean first tried eBook gift cards in 2011. He wrote back then that he “found that it was simple and surprisingly cheap.”
“I talked to about a half-dozen indie bookstore owners," he wrote, “asking them if they would like to sell gift cards for electronic books in their store? All of them said ‘Yes!’”
Dean told me that he would still be offering eBook gift cards, except life got in the way, and some activities had to be set aside. He said that he revisited the concept every so often and that he plans to start offering eBook gift cards again one day. Personally, I see the fact that he never got back to offering them as a red flag that there may be some unspoken flaw in the concept which discourages him from following up.
Dean, however, is still an enthusiastic supporter of eBook gift cards. “What was really fun at the convention was that we put the cards on a piece of cardstock that was printed with our cover and looked like a book cover (like a gift card in a store) and we were signing those,” he told me. “That's right, signing eBooks. Go figure.”
Few authors are currently offering eBook gift cards. I could only find a couple, Dean did not know of any, and a company that made gift cards to order was either unable or unwilling to introduce me to clients who were authors. (The company’s website is primarily focused on marketing to brands, musicians, and large media companies, so they might not have many authors as clients yet.)
Despite the lack of visible activity, it is actually far easier for an author to offer eBook gift cards in 2018 than it was when Dean explored the idea in 2011. Back then Dean developed a process that used Smashwords and had no way to limit downloads—anyone who had the download code could get the ebook.
Now authors have two options for offering eBook gift cards; they can go the DIY route, and get cards printed and then use BookFunnel to manage the downloads, or they can buy cards from an NJ-based company called Dropcards, and let that company handle all the details.
DIY Author eBook Gift Cards
The DIY route requires a fair amount of labor on the part of authors, but it also gives the author more freedom to customize their eBook gift cards.
1 - Have the cards designed and printed either online or at a local print shop. This can cost anywhere from $0.50 to $1.00 per card depending on the size, paper quality, and print options.
2 - Either stamp or write a BookFunnel download code on the back of the card. These are one-time use codes that will let someone download your eBook from BookFunnel’s service.
BookFunnel’s download codes are only available with one of its paid plans, and those cost a minimum of $20 a month. That price is worth it because BookFunnel also provides the technical assistance that some readers will require.
The DIY route takes more effort, and while it offers more freedom to experiment, the cards might end up looking less professional than our second option.
Dropcards Makes Pro-Quality eBook Gift Cards
If you want to sell an eBook gift card that looks as good as the branded gift cards sold in retail stores, then you should look at Dropcards.
This company makes gift cards in seven different styles ranging from a simple card to cards designed for a retail rack and even two styles that look more like conference badges than gift cards. You can upload your eBooks, and Dropcards will handle all the steps from printing the card to hosting the ebook. It will even track when and where the ebooks are downloaded, giving you important info on where your fans live.
Dropcards will produce your eBook gift cards for anywhere between $2 and as low as $0.50 per card. The price varies depending on the style of the card and the quantity ordered, but it can be quite the affordable option.
If you sold one of these cards for 4.99 at a book fair or event, you could have a gross margin of over 80% even after deducting any transaction fees. This is potentially a great source of income that would compliment your print books sales and give readers who prefer digital reads an immediate and tangible way to buy your eBooks.
What do you think? Do you like the concept? Do you think you will buy eBook gift cards for your next book fair or event?
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