Can a Book have too Many Buying Options?

Options Pic

Once you decide to buy a book, you have several decisions to make:

  • online or in store
  • which bookseller
  • digital or print
  • if print: paperback, hardcover, spiralbound, etc.
  • if print: color vs. black and white
  • new or used
  • if new: direct from the bookseller or from a third party
  • if third-party: which third-party seller to choose from
  • if third-party: signed by the author or not
  • if used: collectible or not
  • which edition to buy
  • if out of stock: whether to order it or not
  • if in-store: whether to add a bookmark
  • if online: whether to add other books
  • cash, check, credit card, or debit card
  • if card: credit or debit
  • if credit: Visa, Mastercard, Discover, American Express, etc.
  • if credit or debit card: which bank
  • “Would you like to open a new credit card for this purchase?”
  • At least you usually don’t have to decide between paper and plastic anymore. 🙂

Options are a good thing, right? The more options there are, the better chance you have of getting what you want.

But from a selling perspective, having more options available presents a problem.

The benefit is that additional options may bring additional customers, since some customers may not buy the product at all if the option they want isn’t there.

The disadvantage is that additional options increase the chances of buyer indecision. Some customers walk away from a sale because of buyer indecision.

Suppose, for example, that you’re buying shoes. If there is only one type of shoe that you like and you can only pay cash, you will either take it or leave it. If you like the shoe enough and have the cash on hand, you won’t be worried about other options.

But what if the shoe comes in two colors – pink and blue? Maybe you like them both, but insist on only buying one pair. Now you must decide which one you like better. You might do something else in the meantime, giving yourself time to think it over – while also giving the impulse to shop time to cool off, so you might not buy any shoes at all. Or maybe you decide you like pink best, only to discover that pink is out of stock, but you refuse to buy blue because your heart was set on pink.

Back to books, the question the author or publisher has to ask is whether or not additional options will improve sales by attracting extra customers more than they will deter sales through buyer indecision.

Impulse shopping also plays into this. Extra buying decisions increase the duration of the buying process. The longer it takes, the more likely the sale will be interrupted and the more likely the impulse to buy will wear off before the sale is over.

The option to make both paperback and e-book is probably worthwhile for most books that can be formatted well both ways. For a book that sells predominantly as an e-book, the presence of the paperback still presents many benefits:

  • The e-book price shows as a discount off the paperback list price.
  • You can catch some mistakes when editing a paperback that you miss when editing an e-book.
  • You’re eligible for Kindle’s new MatchBook program.
  • Paperbacks come in handy for readings, signings, review copies, etc.
  • It helps to convince some people that you’re a ‘real’ author.

Some other options, however, may not be worth doing.

Suppose your book would look great in color. When you go to publish the paperback, you may find that the book would be much cheaper in black and white. This tempts you to publish the book both in color and in black and white editions. The problem with this is that the buyer is faced with a decision: Save money with black and white, or enjoy the book in color.

If the book really needs to be in color, don’t make a black and white edition; but if it would be just fine in black and white, don’t make a color edition. Or if you do make a color edition, make it a special edition that you sell directly or give away in a contest; but don’t add it to your product page. (I have the experience of publishing a book both ways, and if I could do it over, I would just choose one way.)

You face a similar dilemma with hardcover and paperback.

There are two more important points about creating different editions of a book. One is sales rank. Each edition of the book has a separate sales rank. When the book is only available in one edition, every purchase helps the same sales rank.

The other point has to do with customer books reviews. If one edition is more likely to generate negative reviews, that option can adversely affect the other editions – if the different editions are all linked together on the same product page.

Chris McMullen, author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers, Vol. 1 (formatting/publishing) and Vol. 2 (packaging/marketing)