“Hey Lucas, what all do you offer on your web store?”
I have had to answer this question three times, mostly from other authors looking to build their own web stores. A couple of the big ebook-selling platforms are clearly embracing enshittification, and interest in disintermediation among creators is greater than I’ve ever seen it. I don’t mind sharing the information, but I do mind writing out the answer more than thrice.
I had some rules in building a web store.
- NO CUSTOM CODE. I can write code. It has been called “comically evil,” but I can write code. I can hire people to write competent code. Both are bad choices for a teeny-tiny business. I will merrily discuss why in meatspace, but not online.
- STANDARD PARTS. I will not build a business on an obfuscated WordPress module. I’ll use such modules for side details, but I won’t base the business on them. I want the source code to be readily available and readable. If Woocommerce or WordPress folds, another company will step in to provide maintenance. Same for themes. I’m even using the standard Woocommerce “Storefront” We-Will-Always-Have-This Minimum Viable Theme.
- HANDOVER READY. It must be simple enough that if one of my books becomes popular and I get to spend all my time writing1, I can hire a WordPress flunky2 and the design won’t shock them. See the two points above.
- BOOKFUNNEL. WordPress can deliver book files to readers. Life is too short to help people load files on their Kindles, let alone their weird limited-production-run-of-50 hybrid-endian built-into-a-self-cooling-beer-stein devices. Pay someone to do that for you.
According to the Wayback Machine I started the store in May 2013, more than ten years ago. I added these features one at a time. Don’t whinge at me that you can’t do all this or that I’m special. Neither could I, and I’m not. Running your own web store on any platform, Woocommerce or Shopify or whatever, requires competence. You gotta spend the time and learn. Yes, I write books on how to build your own network and run servers, but my Internet skills have no pictures, no sound, and especially no video. When I design web sites, you get my 2012 site. There are reasons I sucked it up and learned stupid WordPress and stupid Woocommerce.
Anyway. The features. With a great big helping of “YMMV” and “who knows why this business works?” What works for me might not for you, and the reverse.
- The most vital feature I have is “Name Your Price.” It lets people overpay. About half my customers throw a little extra in my kibble bowl. Sometimes they throw a lot.
- “Treat the Rats” is the tip jar. Before Name Your Price, it was a couple grand a year. Now it’s a couple hundred a year but, hey, the rats gotta eat.
- Bundles like All the Fiction, All the Tech Books, This Entire Series. “The Full Michael” is everything I publish indie. (I even had a photo of me to play off The Full Monty.)
- Bundle Exclusives. The orc kickstarter had a stretch goal of a tiny 6-recipe orcish cookbook, because a friend of mine wanted to do it. That book is only available if you buy the orc bundle direct from me. It lures people in. I intend to do more of these. Also, multiple people have reported that “Beans With Found Meat” is delicious. Weirdly, nobody has reported back after trying the “Longest Dark” orcish holiday punch.
- Sponsorships. “I’m writing this book, and for $30 you get your name in the back of the ebook. For $100 you go in the back of the print and the ebook.” Sponsorship is the only way you can get a personalized signed copy of a book without meeting me in person. Signed Kickstarter books, I just write my name. Unless I know you and want to engage in recreational trolling, of course.
- My loss leader freebies are all in my store. A few people grab them. Those readers have indicated a willingness to go direct immediately and I gleefully welcome them.
- My Patreon work-alike. It’s the exact same benefits as Patreon, but the money goes straight to me. The downside is, I spend a thousand bucks a year on the WordPress plugins to do that. (The free options all annoyed me or didn’t work as I needed.) I have a sufficient number of direct Patronizers to keep that up. Plus, it lets me offer weird things like a special “29 February” option in 2024. (Pay four years of the highest level in advance, save 10%!)
- Standalone short stories are now exclusive to my store. Once upon a time I made a few hundred bucks per indie story at outside retailers, but once I started the Patronizer program and said “$5/month gives you everything I release indie,” that dried up. Turns out all the short story buyers are now Patronizers. Ah, well. I still make out okay. If I hire my own publisher, I might reverse this decision.
- Mechandise. Shirts and stickers and such, via Redbubble. Failed experiment. Print on demand is expensive. Very few folks buy these, so I’ve stopped adding new things except by request.
- The Audiobook. Yes, I have one. Consider yourself warned.
I still haven’t figured out how to hook the checkout process into my mailing list signup, so folks can click a box during check-out to sign up. There’s a plugin for that. It bit me. In its defense, I have three mailing lists and they’re all stupid.
That’s it. You can do all this too. With a willingness to spend time, to learn, and to get back up after you fail. Just like the rest of being a writer.