E-Book Sales Boom During Unbridled Promotion

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Last week, independent bookstores experienced a significant jump in e-book sales thanks to Unbridled Books’ partnership with the American Booksellers Association, which featured the promotion of 25 e-books for 25 cents.

From June 9 - 11, 25 Unbridled titles, in the form of Google eBooks™, were sold for 25 cents apiece on ABA member stores’ IndieCommerce websites. During the three-day promotion, 145 indie bookstores sold 15,807 Unbridled e-books. The bestselling title was The Singer’s Gun by Emily St. John Mandel, the number-one Indie Next List pick in May 2010.

“ABA considers the Unbridled promotion to be an unparalleled success,” said ABA COO Len Vlahos. “While we recognize that selling books for a quarter is not only unsustainable, but is fraught with other issues, this experiment did demonstrate that consumers are interested in buying e-books from independent bookstores. Our challenge now is to find compelling reasons to continue to attract consumers to our stores' websites, and we’re confident we can help our members do that. We’re grateful to Unbridled for taking the initiative in creating this promotion, and for their continued dedication to the indie bookstore channel.”

Kelly Justice, owner of Fountain Bookstore, in Richmond, Virginia, noted that the Unbridled promotion benefited everyone that was involved — from the publisher, which was able to highlight 25 of its titles, to the participating booksellers, who drew added attention to the availability of e-books on their sites, and, also, the customers who purchased new titles for a fraction of their original price.

“I think it really raised awareness of the fact that we provide e-books,” said Justice, who primarily used Twitter to inform customers of the promotion. In the store, Justice put a bowl of quarters on the counter to give customers a visual representation of the cost of the e-books.

Rebecca Joines Schinsky of The Booklady’s Blog helped Justice publicize the promotion by devoting several blog entries to the deal and highlighting some of the books that were on the list of 25.

In just three days, Fountain Bookstore quadrupled its e-book sales, and in the following days Justice continued to see sales of full-priced e-books.

“There are not enough ways for me to express how much I love Unbridled,” said Justice. “I just love their creativity and willingness to work with indie bookstores. They are gutsy and willing to try anything, and this was a brilliant idea on their part. It really allowed us to showcase an imprint that we don’t do as regularly as we should.”

Patrick Darby of Novel Places in Clarksburg, Maryland, sold 98 Unbridled e-books after marketing heavily on Twitter and mounting a QR code on a signpost outside his store. The code linked to a webpage featuring the Unbridled e-books, and one-third of page hits were from scans of the street-side QR code.

Darby said that, though his regular customers seem to be more interested in physical books, they were “pleased that we can compete with Amazon, and that there are choices available for e-readers.” He also believes that promotions such as Unbridled’s “will draw customers to the store, when they know they can download a book after talking with staff.”

Lillian Welch of Queen Anne Books, in Seattle, Washington, said that she was shocked to see the number of e-books her store sold during the promotion.

“We definitely sold more e-books in the first two days of the sale than we sold ever before,” she said. “It was pretty significant. The jump was incredible.”

Though her store experienced a few technical hiccups, she was able to work through them, which “in a way was a good thing,” Welch said, “since we’ve never sold this many e-books at one time, all of the little quirks were brought to the surface.”

The Unbridled promotion was mentioned by local blogger Paul Constant, who linked to Queen Anne’s website, which directly resulted in sales — local and out of state.

“There were so many orders from out of town, which we hadn’t expected,” said Welch. However, the promotion was also a great incentive for regular customers to take the necessary first step of creating a store account.

“I think people have somewhat of a ‘sign-up fatigue,’” she said, which might have been holding some customers back in the past. “It took something like this to get them over the hump.”

Now, Welch and the rest of the Queen Anne staff are trying to come up with another way to make it worthwhile for customers to create an e-book account with the store that still adheres to publishers’ agency model requirements. In the meantime, she is keeping an eye on her e-book sales, hoping that her neighborhood, which is an area of “heavy iPhone and iPad users,” will gravitate more toward her store.

“We’re hoping this [promotion] will lead to more people knowing that they can buy from us,” Welch said.