The proverb among micro- and self-publishers is that “bookstores are lousy places to sell books.” (I believe Dan Poynter was one of the first to say it.)
This can, of course, be true. You have to offer significant discounts not only to the store, but also to the wholesalers, and a distributor, too.
It seems so obvious, especially given changes to the music industry, that we should try to reach our readers directly, and also try to sell them something over and above our words. (“What?” is a question for another post.)
Direct sales are the right idea for many small presses. They’re the wrong one for many others. Whether it turns out to be right or wrong, there are a number of problems, though, when you try to execute a strategy like this.
Readers don’t trust sites they don’t know. And why should they? You’ll have much better luck getting them to buy from known sites, like Amazon, or from a bricks and mortar store.
Fish where the fish aren’t. In other words, your book needs to be where people are looking for books, or at least for information about your topic, or for entertainment, or whatever. It’s much, much harder to bring people to you to buy a book than it is to put your book where people interested in your topic are already congregating and purchasing things.
Overhead and transaction costs are real, and significant, even if they’re hard to see. And they can kill your business even if you never understand how.
You may think you have no overhead or transaction costs because you’re operating out of an unused bedroom, and doing everything yourself. But even if you’re not writing someone else a check to do the necessary work, you’re still paying for it. How? Well, surely there’s something you could do with that time that would enrich your life more than packing your 597th box? That’s not going to market your books. It’s not helping you find more manuscripts (or write them yourself, whichever). And it’s certainly not a life experience you really need. (Well, not unless you have a whole lot of guilt to assuage.)
Do NOT neglect opportunity costs. Like most of the rest of the “real” world, they can hurt you whether you believe in them or not.
That’ll do for a start on a list of “gotchas” that must be dealt with. What others have bothered you? And what do you like about reaching out directly to your readers?