Tuesday, 22 October 2013

No more postcards any more - Nicola Morgan

[After writing this, I saw Saviour Pirotta's post about school visits, in which he praises postcards. I don't disagree with him in that context but you'll see that I have come to a different conclusion, because I'm asking a different question.]

I recently conducted some modestly scientific research and I bring you the results: buying postcards in an attempt to support my books is a) far too expensive and b) utterly pointless if measured by ensuing book sales.

The only type of writer in a position to discover this is someone who has a self-published ebook-only books, because that is the only way precise, near-real-time sales can be monitored. With my ebook-only books, where I'm the publisher, I know for a fact whether I have sold an ebook in any given 24-hour period.

So, let me tell you two recent opportunities I had to test the value of giving away postcards to support a book.

TEST 1 - Mondays are Red
I do nothing to promote Mondays are Red and it sells the same (small!) number every week, with no variation other than an overall 10% decline in the last year. It is available only as an ebook and I will see every sale within a few hours.

Recently, I did a school event at a private school. 120 pupils in the audience, of the right age to enjoy Mondays are Red. Each pupil was allowed to pick up a Mondays are Red postcard, signed, on the way out. Each pupil did. So, 120 cards went into the world, carried home by a person who was a) fired up to enjoy a book (it was a very positive event) and b) almost certainly able to afford to pay under £3 for it.

Over the ensuing two weeks, how many extra copies of Mondays are Red were sold in the UK?

None. Zero. I know, someone might buy it later but I'd like to think at least one person was moved to buy it NOW.

TEST 2 - Dear Agent, Write a Great Synopsis and Tweet Right (all on one postcard)
I do a bit to promote these books, because they are featured visually on my Help! I Need a Publisher! blog, which gets good traffic and has 1600+ registered readers. They sell steadily - and by steadily I mean that I sell uncannily the same number every week. The weekly figure does not vary unless something has spiked it. Again, they are available only as ebooks and I will see every sale within a few hours.

Recently, I was speaking at the York Festival of Writing. There were hundreds of people there but I decided not to leave piles of postcards because I wanted to know they'd been picked up. I did leave one small pile but I also properly handed out 110 over 24 hours.

Over the ensuing two weeks, how many extra copies of any of those books have been sold in the UK?

None. Zero. I know, someone might buy them later but...

And yes, of course, we don't know whether those cards will find their way into other hands and whether sales might ensure but I'm not anticipating a pre-Christmas rush, tbh.

So, let's look at the cost of this embarrassing failure
I buy my cards from Vistaprint. Maybe there's somewhere cheaper (though they aren't known for being high-end) but I like being able to design them easily and I do take advantage of the special offers. (For example, if I want 500, I know that I should just order 250, because, when I've clicked "buy" I'll be given the chance to buy another 250 for a far cheaper price.)

But the unit cost of a postcard is still pretty shocking, even when bought in bulk. I looked at my last order, in which I ordered 250 of Mondays are Red and 500 of the writing/publishing one. And I worked out that each card cost me just over 13p.

So, it cost me £30 to fail to sell a single copy of four books. And when I think how many postcards I've handed out over the years... Well, I'd rather not, to be honest.

And that's why I won't be buying postcards any more. (Oops - see PS...) I'll be signing jotters and arms and scraps of paper and punishment slips, but not postcards bought by me. I may order some business card sized things, but not postcards. I can't afford the waste, pretty as they are.

What about bookmarks? Don't get me started on bookmarks. I researched bookmarks years ago and decided that, as well as the greater cost (usually) they don't work well as marketing tools because people put hide them inside a book and they've already bought the book so it's unlikely to prompt a sale. Again, they're pretty and it's nice to give something to a reader, but...

You see, don't get me wrong: I'd love to be able to give pretty presents to everyone who smiles at me and asks for a signature and if money flowed from my pen I'd happily go back to buying postcards. But I can't afford it.

I'd love to know what everyone thinks. I am sure loads of you will disagree with me, and you might easily be right.
_____________

*cough* The books mentioned above are available on Amazon, but, apart from Tweet Right, they are also available on my own online shop, which is the cheapest place to buy them and you get all formats in one package... But no postcards!

PS Added later: Erm, I capitulated. I just ordered postcards again. One for all my books on one card, including the forthcoming ebook of The Passionflower Massacre and Sleepwalking. Why? Because I ordered 1000, making them cost just under 8p, and because I like pretty things. I am a fool! 

18 comments:

Stroppy Author said...

I'm not going to disagree. My marketing budget goes on research and on things to give to *publishers* - magnets in place of business cards, and flyers that have a load of book blurb, biog and contact details. I have no idea whether the latter make any difference BUT I only need to get one tiny contract as a result to more than pay for all the print runs I've ever done. But that's marketing me, not marketing a single book. In a way, I guess it's marketing a potential book I haven't yet written...

Nicola Morgan said...

Good point, Stroppy. It's all about measuring value of potential gain. If one of my postcards had a half decent chance of attracting a contract, rather than the sale of one book, the equation would be different.

catdownunder said...

Actually I use one of your post cards all the time (and confess it is looking a little worn even) - it is a marker in a dictionary! (Not sure that is any comfort but at least you know one of them is being used to good purpose.)
I know they are slightly different but I have often wondered about the efficacy business "cards" - the sort that come as fridge magnets must be expensive and, mostly, we just look up the number we need in our personal list!

Stroppy Author said...

Catdownunder, they are not *that* expensive. And editors lose business cards, whereas this is bright and cheerful and they can stick it to a filing cabinet. As for looking up numbers... all editors contact me by email and I don't even give out a phone number :-)

catdownunder said...

Ah right - you are obviously incredibly well organised! Have to agree though that I don't give anyone a phone number - they would be inclined to forget I live Downunder and they are somewhere in Peru or Afghanistan!

Farah Mendlesohn said...

An organisation I am working with is obsessed with bookmarks. Against my advice they sent bookmarks to an event where I already know the booksellers have poor sales. Person after person *declined* the bookmark on the grounds that they read on an ebook, and we received not one membership that way.

Anne Cassidy said...

I wonder if part of the problem is you were selling e books. I wonder if you'd had actual books at these talks people may have bought them then and there as part of the experience of being at the event? Going away and remembering to order an ebook might be a whole different ball game. I would forget, I'm sure.

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DanielB said...

For the last 18 months, my publishers have been giving me postcards to sign in schools, but there are never enough and I am constantly begging for more. They've just sent me the last batch so I am considering my options. I have long suspected that they don't, in general, lead to sales, but it's nice to give them something other than a signed scrap of paper torn off a jotter! Whether I'll feel the same when I am actually paying for the things is another matter... (I'll never forget my first primary-school experience when I was asked for signatures - I was leaving for my taxi and they all clustered round, shoving bits of paper in my face - I almost couldn't breathe!)

Sue Purkiss said...

Very interesting! After my last book came out, I made a stack of postcards which I must say I thought were rather lovely. I sent them out to schools, with details of visits etc, and thought even if they didn't respond straight away, they might stick the pretty postcard on their noticeboard and do something about it later. It didn't happen. Nothing happened. So that's another thing that doesn't work. Now what DOES work? What makes people buy books etc? Simple answers, on a postcard, please...

Nicola Morgan said...

Sue, oh gosh, if I knew!

Cat - re the postcard you are lovingly using as a bookmark, that's rather my point about bookmarks AND postcards!

And Stroppy is right about the magnet things because she knows the exact purpose she wishes for them.

Farah, yup. Interesting.

Anne, two points in answer to that: first, the postcards have a QR code so in fact people can order them instantly and, second, if I had the physical books to hand, i wouldn't want to hand out a postcard as well (though I usually do) if I am measuring PC usefulness by sales.

Dan, I find those situations really difficult!

JO said...

Thinking about this - have I every bought a book on the basis of a postcard, or bookmark ... No! I buy a lot of books, but find out more about them than you can fit on a postcard first. Proves nothing, of course, though does seem to fit with your observations.

Keren David said...

I sometimes think that kids think it's a choice between a book or a bookmark...so they get the free thing.

C.J.Busby said...

I think I agree with Keren. Choice between a signed book for £5 and a signed postcard for nothing? Postcard every time! Because there's always an element of the book as 'souvenir' - even if you hope they'll read it and enjoy it, part of the reason they want it is just to mark the occasion of being at an author event!

As for what makes people buy books - now that's the 24 million dollar question....

Nicola Morgan said...

Postcard printing companies are not going to like me very much...

Penny Dolan said...

Postcards are better than bookmarks as bookmarks - though not relevant if you are an e-book reader.

But the greatest use I've had for them is - pitiful, I know - for when you're stuck next to some mega-selling author at a festival signing table. At least you can hand out occasional signed postcards (ie. DO something!) rather than sitting there with an empty space in front of you and/or not engaging because you've chosen to scribble stuff in your note book out of sheer awkwardness. A lot to pay, perhaps, but I was cheered up.

Savita Kalhan said...

I missed this post the other day and it's so very pertinent to what I was just about to do - order postcards! I'm sure your research is spot on, Nicola, but I am still tempted to order a batch, probably mainly because even if kids don't buy my book, it sort of helps keep me alive in their minds, (does that make sense?!) for when my next book does come out...

Nicola Morgan said...

Penny, that is a very good point and one I'd forgotten, despite having experienced it myself :(