Buy the Book Links: What’s an Author to Do?

buythebookOne of the most important elements of an author website is an easy way (ideally with one click) for a site visitor to take the plunge and buy the book. But that’s easier said than done: not in a technical sense, of course (setting up a link is easy), but in terms of deciding which retailer sites to link to.

The Big Two
Obviously, the first one that everyone thinks of is Amazon. It’s truly the site that dominates the market. And not just the book market, mind you, but just about every product you can buy online.

Then there’s B&N. We always recommend that authors offer links to buy the book from both sites, because we’ve heard reports that if an author decides to only provide a link to one of the two big online retailers, the other can threaten to pull that book from its site altogether. That’s something no one wants.

Borders used to be the third of this “big three,” but that’s no longer an option.

From Two to Two Thousand?
So are two links enough? What about all the other thousands of booksellers out there?

Well, they’re now speaking up. A new article in The Bookseller, titled Anger over authors’ website links to Amazon includes quotes from independent booksellers who are sick and tired of authors only linking to Amazon (or Amazon and B&N) to sell copies of their books. And who can blame them? After all, if you had a tiny little store, how would you feel if your product manufacturers kept sending potential clients to buy their stuff at WalMart?

In the article, Keith Smith from Warwick & Kenilworth bookshops says: “As someone who owns two independent bookshops I feel angry that these authors, unthinkingly or by design, have chosen to support Amazon, W H Smith or Waterstones without giving a fig for independent bookshops. Many of these are authors who, when asked, will say they couldn’t imagine life without their local bookshop. But words need to be matched by deeds if they are to make a difference.”

I totally understand his anger. But what’s an author to do? After all, it’s a lot easier to set up one Amazon link than it is to set up thousands of links to every online retailer. Or even more challenging: to list every single independent bookstore that carries the book in question.

Feedback From Authors
Here are responses from a few authors that appear later in the article:

Author Alison Weir defended herself, commenting: “Publishing, as you must know, is going through hard times and every author and publisher wants to maximise sales. When I set up my website, my webmaster told me I could link to Amazon, so I told him to go ahead. My American publishers then asked me to link to other bookstores. I’m not sure how Keith Smith envisages linking to every independent bookseller in a practical way – how many must there be? The fact remains that not one, including him, has ever asked me to do so. But if they had, I would have worked out a way to do it. If you look on my website you will see links to other websites whose owners requested a link. Linking to Amazon does not mean that I do not support independents.”

Novelist Joanne Harris said: “I am more than happy to include links to independent bookshops. I know how much I owe them and I support them fully.”

Julia Donaldson told The Bookseller changing the links on her website was something she had been planning to do “for some time”. She said: “I want to think carefully about how I do it. Independent bookshops really are something I care about very much and I have been feeling guilty about it. But when I first set up my website, this is what was suggested to me would be the easiest thing to do.”

What’s an Author to Do?
This entire issue can be summed up relatively quickly and easily. Independent booksellers are upset about Amazon and B&N being the sites that authors are sending readers to for purchasing the book. And that’s valid.

But it’s also true that the logistics of setting up thousands of links is … well … not really doable. It’s so much easier for authors to link to the big retailers, and it’s just as easy for readers to click on those links and make the purchases quickly and easily. Doing anything more complicated will not only be a challenge for the author and his or her webmaster, but it may make the experience even more complicated for the buyer.

So what’s an author to do? I don’t have the answer. If you have any great ideas, please share them with us!