Recently I saw a weblog post by Dean Wesley Smith where he pitched the idea of selling e-books in the form of gift cards. He envisioned this as a way to get e-books into physical bookstores, and even suggested it might be a way for independent bookstores to survive and thrive in the e-book revolution.
The basic way it works is that the card is the same size and shape as a credit card. On the front it has an image of the cover of the book, and on the back it has the marketing copy for the book and a scratch-off area that reveals a code for a coupon good for a copy of the book from Smashwords.com, in any format for any e-reader the person might like. So people shop in a real bookstore, see the cards on display, find a book they like, pay for it at the register, take the card home to their computer, scratch off the code, type it in at Smashwords, download the book to their reader, and read away — e-books sold in bookstores.
I like the idea. I like imagining the racks of books on display, and the idea of collections of books being sold together in a pack. And I like the idea of a teeny-tiny bookstore having an inventory beyond any current strip-mall Waldenbooks.
Despite this, however, I don’t share the hope that this is a way for independent bookstores to survive and thrive the e-book revolution. Unless most authors made most books available this way, shopping at an independent bookstore would still be hit or miss. The best inventory, with the best prices, and the easiest shopping, will still be online.
And it does seem like kind of a waste of the resources needed to manufacture, print, ship, display, sell, and buy the cards, when the only thing needed was the number, which you could have simply written down.
All in all, though, I like the idea. Smith suggests getting real plastic gift cards custom printed, but I have blank business card stock in my drawer right now, and I think I might print some for myself. I could print the cover of The Desert King on one side, a blurb and a Smashwords link on the back, and start selling them in person to my poker buddies right now (or, as soon as I get it on Smashwords).