Initially published in April 2019, this is a periodically updated reference post on how authors can sell ebooks at in-person events.
As someone who prefers ebooks over print, I frequently find myself with no way to buy an author's ebooks when I am at book festivals. Sure, almost everyone sells ebooks through the Kindle Store, but I'd really like to support authors more by buying from them. (Plus, part of the fun of a con or book festival is buying directly from the author.)
In the interest of promoting direct ebook sales, I have started this resource post to pull together useful info that authors can use to sell ebooks at their next con. I will be adding to this post over time, and I would deeply value pointers to additional resources.
First, let's define the problem. The best and easiest way to sell ebooks in person is by putting a download code on a card or putting an ebook on a USB stick, and then selling the stick. I'm going to add more details about the USB stick route in a later update; for now, let's focus on download codes on cards.
Generally speaking, this project will require graphic design tools to create the content to be printed on the cards, and a service to manage downloads, and of course you'll need to have the cards printed somewhere. (When it comes to printing services, I have been satisfied with Vistaprint, but they have many equally good competitors.)
Let's look at tools.
The first step in selling download codes on cards is designing the front and the back of the card. Your design can range from something as simple as putting the book's cover on the front and a download code on the back to one consisting over blurb's reviews, an author bio, etc.
Here are a few online tools that can help you make those designs.
Canva - This is my goto tool for all DIY graphic design. The free version is quite capable of making everything from business cards to social media graphics to flyers, and it has many stock designs that you can use as a source. They're a little bland but still a great place to start learning by doing.
Adobe Spark - I have yet to use this tool, but it came highly recommended from Passive Guy. It is a free online and mobile graphic design tool that you can use to easily create beautiful images, videos, and web pages. And yes, it does print, too.
BookBrush - This is a relatively new service which is intended to compete with Canva by focusing solely on authors making advert and other promo graphics for their books. It has many templates that you can customize and use. It doesn't do print yet, but you can use it to make a graphic with custom dimensions and then have that printed.
If you're going to give away or sell download codes, someone is going to have handle the files. And while you could do it yourself, there are companies that will distribute the file for you and even handle the tech support (not having to bother with tech support is definitely worth paying for).
DropCards - This company will not only handle all of the technical details, they can even print high-quality gift cards in a half-dozen styles. The cards will come with one-time use codes, just like you'd find on gift cards for retailers.
BookFunnel - This service is best known for helping authors build their mailing lists, but in July 2018 it started offering download codes. The codes are single-use, and are included in both BF's Bestseller and Mid-list author plans. You will need to arrange to have the codes printed on cards yourself, and you can find more details here.
Prolific Works - Formerly known as InstaFreebie, Prolific Works is a BookFunnel competitor. It too offers download codes (I have one on my desk) but I am having trouble finding a page on the PW website with relevant info. And again, you'll need to have the cards designed and printed.
This section of the post, more than any other, is going to grow over time. It will have to, because I can only find one example of an author creating cards to sell ebooks at book fairs.
When I'm not quite so busy I plan to design an ebook gift card myself and explore what can go on the front and the back. For now, I will have to bring your attention to the fact that Indies Unlimited covered the topic in 2017. Melissa Bowersock explains how she went all out by burning her ebooks to mini-DVDs and packaging the disks in plastic bags.
Her design looks pricy but also professional.