Part I

I’ve moved a dozen times since college, and each time I’ve carted boxes and boxes of physical books. Hardbacks, paperbacks, comics, magazines, you name it. Each time, I go through my books and I donate the ones I don’t want to keep any more. Because who wants to carry even more books next time I move, right? Not me.

Over the years my hard copy book collection has dwindled into practically nothing. Most of the hard copies I own are autographed by the authors, and the few that aren’t are truly some of my favorite books of all time.

But I still read. A lot. Like, really a lot. Since I don’t want to deal with the space or the clutter, and not to mention, it’s way more convenient, I read 99.9% of my books on my Amazon Kindle.

Part 2

Today, like on many other days, I went into a book store and I browsed around. I found myself staring at a bookshelf at a particular book with an interesting cover. I picked it up, and I flipped through it and decided I wanted it. So I did what any modern person might do and I took a picture of it.

As I saved the picture into my phone, the thought occurred to me that this book store performed a service for me. The store is a better discovery mechanism than Amazon’s recommendation engine is. The little note cards underneath the book with mini reviews by the bookstore staff gave me more confidence that it is a good book than any 5 star review on Amazon would.

And it occurred to me that this book store wouldn’t get a dime of my money, not because it was too expensive or because I didn’t like the owners, but because I read e-books now, and there’s no place in my house for a dead-tree book anymore.

Part 3

Amazon offers something called the Amazon Associates Program, an affiliate program. It allows you to link to a book (or a TV or a lawnmower or crème brûlée torch or anything, really) on Amazon, and you get the credit for the referral. If someone that you referred buys a $100 item, you get something like 4.00% (four bucks!) for the referral. If you refer 100 people in one month, your referral rate goes up. The more people you refer, the larger your referral fee. This fee can go as high as 8.5% for general products.

Neat, right? This is how many sites make their money!

Now, imagine that the bookstore has copies of “The Shards of Heaven” by Michael Livingston, and the book costs $9.99. Let’s round up to $10 for simple math. Imagine that the bookstore places a postcard underneath the book, with an affiliate link to Amazon. As an e-book reader, I could scan a QR code and be whisked away to Amazon, buying the book on the spot.

The store gets their 40 cents for the referral, and you get your e-book.

Note that the physical copy is still on the shelf — people who prefer hard-copies can still buy them! This simply opens the door for the store to profit from readers who prefer e-books.

There is untold lost revenue going to Amazon in the form of people browsing physical books, then buying e-reader versions. With this simple strategy, a physical bookstore could capture some of that lost revenue. The chances of losing significant sales of physical copies are small. Those who love hard copies will continue to buy them, while the store will gain referral fees from those who prefer e-books.

Seems like a no-brainer to me.

Part 4

Let’s say you’re a bookstore owner, and you have doubts about whether this is a good idea. Here’s another free idea: try it out.

Take last month’s bestsellers, the top 20, and put your affiliate link on them. Leave it up for a month. Point it out to people when they shop. Mention it’s a test, and if it works out, maybe it’ll be a permanent feature. At the end of the month, log into your Amazon Associates account and see how much money you earned from affiliate fees, then compare your estimated hard copy sales with your actual hard copy sales.

My guess is that your hard copy sales will stay roughly the same, within a reasonable range of your estimate. I can all but guarantee you’ll have at least a few bucks in affiliate marketing, and hey, that’s some cash in your pocket you didn’t have before.

If by some chance it turns out you lost more hard copy sales than you thought, then you can take it down. Live and learn. (Let me know if this happens, though. I’m curious.)

Part 5

I’m reading a book called “Damselle in Distress” by Kiley Kellermeyer. It’s Kiley’s first book, and it’s fantastic. It’s whimsical and fun and moving and nostalgic all at once. Simply put, it’s precisely the kind of book I want on my bookshelf.

When Kiley’s second book comes out, I’ll snap it up in a heartbeat, and the odds are fantastic that I’ll want a hard copy, so that if she ever comes to town, I can get her to sign it.

So in my ideal scenario, I go to my local bookstore the day on release day. I scan the QR code under the hard copy and purchase it on Amazon, then I pick up the physical copy and take it over to the counter.

“I bought the e-book version of this from your link over there,” I say to the woman behind the counter. “And I’d also like a hard copy.”

“Not a problem,” she says. “Since you used our affiliate link, we’ll give you 10% off your hard copy, partly because we already got money from your purchase in the form of a referral fee, but also because you’ve just demonstrated yourself to be a loyal customer by purchasing stuff from us instead of simply ordering the hard copy from Amazon.”

“Great!” I say.

She’s happy I purchased a book and gave her a referral fee. I’m happy that I have my books. We’re both happy that we’ve established a small rapport around our mutual love of books.

See? A no-brainer.