Business Musings: My Own Little Store

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Let me simply put it this way:

Mind. Blown.

Seriously.

WMG Publishing just completed a specialty store for my Diving series. The store features all of the books and a lot of merchandise. Everything is in one place and easy to find.

Plus, I find the store gorgeous. I don’t know if everyone will, but I do. I’m not a big in-person shopper, but I love shopping online. For me, shopping online is less a browsing thing than a get-what-I’m-looking-for thing. But if I happen to see a merchandise shop for an art or sports item, sure, I’ll click through, and maybe buy one or two more things.

So, if I, say, head to an author’s website to see when the next book in her series is coming out, I will look at her other books. Usually that’s all the merchandise I find on an author site. Sometimes I don’t even find that…and that’s very frustrating.

Static author websites are, for me anyway, a place to get a question answered, such as the one I mentioned above. Active author websites, like mine, are sometimes a mish-mash of things. (The new site I’ve been promising is coming in a few days…fingers crossed.)

But I’ve had series websites for more than a decade now. I used them as static websites, so that people could get questions answered, such as, How can I get the next book in the series? Those answers always involved links to outside websites, like Amazon. That would provoke someone to write to me and tell me I shouldn’t support Amazon or corporations in general or complain about the fact that their preferred store wasn’t listed.

I understand the complaint about a preferred store. I have them as well. I never really understood the folks who wrote to me to tell me to stop selling my books everywhere I could, particularly in the days when I was traditionally published. In those days, I had no control over when or where my books were published, and I certainly had no control over where they were sold.

Heck, I even had books published that never made it to the local bookstore—not because the bookstore owner didn’t want the book or didn’t even try to order it, but because the publisher had either “sold out” of the book immediately and wasn’t going back for another print run, or worse, refused to do business with a certain distributor (back in the day when there was more than one major book distributor).

As a traditionally published writer, I never thought of book merchandise either. Oh, I fingered some great book-related products over the years. In the 1990s, Barnes & Noble had some wonderful book-related merchandise, most of it for public domain books. B&N would use the original art from a Dickens book and make a tote bag or a mug. I envied those tote bags and mugs, but I never bought them because…get this…I either didn’t like the author or the art.

When J.K. Rowling hit the stratosphere, Scholastic went all in on merchandise, and I fingered that in stores as well. (By fingering, I mean I’d touch the items longingly, like an impoverished child in a Victorian play, hoping for holiday sweetmeats.) Rowling’s early contract was a standard Scholastic contract for a young adult (and children’s) novel, and all of those contracts include merchandising rights licensed to Scholastic.

That makes sense if you consider how Scholastic sold books back then. They sold books at book fairs (sometimes organized by Scholastic) and at those fairs, they had other book-related stuff, like stuffed animals and puzzles and games based on children’s toys.

I don’t think, in those early years, Scholastic sold any merchandising rights on young adult books. The clause was just in the standard contract. Rowling’s agent didn’t cross the clause out, and back then, Rowling was a business neophyte (and I’m being polite), so she didn’t cross anything out either.

Suddenly bookstores were filled with Harry Potter pillows and Harry Potter totes. The Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans prompted me to make a joke in front of a bookseller once, because those beans in the book have flavors like “booger” and “earwax.” I said something snide about the taste testers, and the bookseller mentioned that the kids who bought the beans were disappointed because the tastes weren’t authentic.

Yep. Kids know.

But I felt some writerly envy. I figured I didn’t have the kind of books that went into the merchandise stratosphere, not then anyway. And I was realistic enough to know that I’d have to partner with some merchandising place and give them a large enough audience to mass produce something unique to one of my series (like Every Flavour Beans).

That got reinforced at the Licensing Expo here in Las Vegas back in 2018 when I went for the first time. Only by then, I knew how to build a business and I figured we could build an outside licensing arm to WMG.

The following year, I wrote a book, Rethinking The Writing Business, about the ways that independent writers could make money from all the different licensing possibilities. The advice in that book remains solid.

But it did not foresee one major change in the industry.

I did not expect the growth of print-on-demand merchandise. Or rather, when I had looked at it, back then, it was too expensive per item. No one would pay $50 for a mug plus shipping. And we didn’t want to warehouse anything.

So two years ago, at the Licensing Expo, I found myself at print on demand booths, looking at high-end things—one of a kind things—that fans might like. I figured we’d go there, and we still might.

But I didn’t really expect the boom that would follow in the past two years.

Now, the merchandise you see on the Diving site, as well as the merchandise on our Pulphouse site, is all print on demand. We tested it, got samples, and then checked on how easy things were to produce and ship. There were some glitches along the way, but nothing too serious.

We’re still fine-tuning. We also haven’t figured out a good way to do international shipping on the site on most items, but we’ll get there. We have other issues as well, but I’m not going to delineate them here.

What’s so amazing and mind-blowing about the site, though, is what it does for the books. You can find the reading order (which answers that static reader question). You can figure out which books you’re missing. You can preorder the new book.

The shop gives us all kinds of choices. We can have big sales, like we’re having right now. We’re doing a grand opening, with discounts on everything on the site. We have even linked to the main WMG bookstore, which the staff calls The Mothership. Writers and readers can get the same discounts there, including discounts on workshops. (Right now, that’s 50% off, with the right code.)

We’re also able to do smaller, targeted sales. First books in a series or maybe a bundle of books will get their sales. We can communicate directly with the customers in newsletters, offering discounts for, say, only the people on my Diving newsletter.

We have options that we’ve never had before.

On his site last week, Dean posited that writers can use sites like this instead of having a standalone blog. We’re experimenting already with that idea. For example, the weekly blog that Allyson Longuiera does on the WMG website will also appear on the Mothership. I can foresee a time when readers of that blog will receive special codes or deals if they click a link or prove that they’ve been reading the blog regularly.

I can’t imagine all the new things we can do, but I know that WMG is exploring everything. I can foresee rotating merch in and out—this season’s Diving tee might be full price, but last season’s discontinued tee might be on clearance.

A real store! I’m vibrating with excitement.

And, honestly, I can’t wait for all the other series stores as well. I’m having fun, and I’m not even the one designing the merch. (Yes, I approve it, but I’m mostly a rubber stamp. WMG is doing a great job.)

I know, I know. For the writer without a staff this is a lot of work. But most of you don’t have 1,000 or so book products either and haven’t been writing series for nearly 40 years. You can do things like this for your single series or your standalone books.

The key is not to be in a hurry. We’ve been working on various Shopify stores since January. We’ve been working on an online store, in general, for nearly 10 years.

I think we finally have a system that works.

So go take a look. See if it inspires you. Remember, you don’t have to do this now or even this year. For you, it might be something in the future.

For us, it’s the present, and boy, oh, boy, am I excited about it all.

*****

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“Business Musings: The Diving Store,” copyright © 2023 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Image at the top of the blog copyright © 2023 by  —-

 

 

6 thoughts on “Business Musings: My Own Little Store

  1. A very sleek looking store!

    It’s unfortunate I’m overseas as shipping costs and import taxes can be prohibitive. On that note have you considered electronic merchandise (aparts from ebooks) like screen wallpapers? For desktop or smartphone? I’ve always liked the art on the Diving series covers a lot.

    1. Hello and warm greetings Prasenjeet!

      This is Stephanie with WMG and I handle most of the merchandise design and production, so Kris asked me to reach out to you.

      Yes, there are quite a few print-on-demand services available for creating merchandise. The two most popular are Printful and Printify. We use Printful for most of our products, and supplement with specific products from other sites, like Printify, that are not offered on Printful.

      And yes, all of the merchandise items we are currently selling are print-on-demand items.

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