Hachette Book Group announced a new partnership this morning with the indie digital marketplace Gumroad to sell print books on Twitter. In what would best be described as a small experiment, Hachette and Gumroad will sell three print books "for a limited time and in limited quantities" via each author's tweets.
The three books are Chris Hadfield’s You Are Here, Amanda Palmer’s The Art of Asking, and The Onion’s The Onion Magazine: The Iconic Covers that Transformed an Undeserving World. Palmer's book will go live later this week, and the other two titles will follow days later. Each of the 3 books will be bundled with a bonus item. In the case of astronaut Hadfield's book, for example, the extar will be a signed original photo, and The Onion's book will be accompanied by a set of note cards featuring twelve of the editors' favorite magazine covers.
Given Gumroad's focus as a digital marketplace, they make a strange partner for selling print books, but Gumroad's integration with Twitter’s new “Buy Now” button makes them a good candidate for this program.
Now if only it had happened several years ago, back before Gumroad was an established bit player in the indie scene.
If Hachette had tried this pilot in 2011 it would have been a novel experiment with a still untested idea. (Yes, people were selling ebooks via Twitter in 2011 - just with links that led to ebookstores.)
But in 2014, selling via Gumroad isn't a novel concept any more. It's common to the point of being passe, and some creators have even moved on from to other means for direct sales.
Lots of authors sell via Gumroad, but some have been tripped up by Gumroad's limitations and stopped using it for direct sales. As Elizabeth Beeton of B10 Mediaworx pointed out in a blog post earlier this year, Gumroad has its quirks.
In addition to being an author and publisher, Beeton also sets up stores for other authors, and over time she kept getting tripped up by the same pair of problems:
1. The merchant is listed as GUMROAD on the customer’s credit card statement. No one who bought from B10 Mediaworx complained, but plenty of my client’s customers complained. As a result, there were quite a few sale disputes.
2. There is no “add to cart” for digital products. No one who bought from B10 Mediaworx complained, but plenty of my client’s customers complained. They had to check out each time they bought a title. Can you imagine if you need all ten?
In short, Beeton has shown us that Gumroad is not a good option for ebook or book retail - not unless you want to sell one book at a time to one person at a time. And while that won't be an issue with this pilot, if Hachette decides to step up their direct retail efforts they will have to go elsewhere.
In conclusion, while it might sound snarky or sarcastic to say that Hachette is years behind the times, in this case that is an accurate description.