Can you sell through social media? Not directly…

A while back I ran into a writer friend on the street, began chatting, and we ended up lamenting the complete disconnect between the popularity of our respective blogs and the number of books actually sold through them.

Wright_AuthorPhoto2014_LoIn a way it’s an idle expectation. I don’t blog specifically to sell things. I’ve put click-to-buy links up (hint, hint), but to me the blog is more a place where I can publish stuff that interests me (and hopefully you), such as my science posts – and, more to the point, engage in interesting discussions with the people I’ve made contact with through social media.

Still, I’d kind of hope there might be the odd click-through – you know, those large book covers on the right. No?

I’ve found it’s not just a matter of indifference. If I put up a post that directly promotes a book just published, my readership disappears. Those posts simply don’t attract many views by comparison with the others (especially the science ones).

It’s not just a ‘books’ thing. My sister teaches about making craft wools, mostly online. Her main business is in the US, where she regularly tours and lectures (Florida, in April). And she runs a good deal of social media to support it. Same deal. Direct promotions simply don’t work, and if you DO hard-sell, your readers go away.

The reason’s clear. People don’t go to social media to buy things. They go to be entertained, distracted, make contact with people – all free. What’s more, the defining nature of this media is a constant stream, like a radio or TV broadcast. That means content is transient. In fact it’s becoming more transient as time goes on. When I began blogging in 2010, my posts typically attracted a fair number of views for two or three days. Now the ‘novelty burst’ is down to 24 hours.

I suspect the reason for that is the spread of media. We have Facebook, Twitter, blogs, Pinterest, StumbleUpon (check it out if you haven’t already), Reddit, Google+ and a host of other services competing for our time. I’ve seen some scary figures about the actual time people spend on any one post, picture or thing – and the number actually browsed in any social media session. What that tells me is that attention spans are down.

As for using it to market? No. And yet, I suspect, most authors will have ready buyers for their books; and that highlights the real challenge for writers these days. Discovery. In that, blogging – and other social media – can help. But it won’t sell directly.

Have you had similar experiences with blogging and books? How do you see social media? I’d love to hear from you.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2015


34 thoughts on “Can you sell through social media? Not directly…

  1. We are constantly told to develop an ‘author platform’ and yet the stats and anecdotal evidence suggest readers couldn’t give a tinker’s cuss about author platforms and that the only people reading them are potential agents and other authors.

    The most popular posts on my blog are the film and television reviews. (People coming along and reading about someone else’s media baby!) Like you I have my books ready for the tickle of a click, but WordPress stats suggest I’m lucky to have people move on from the home page, let alone click through to a book sale.

    After eighteen months of this online charade I’m slowly coming to the conclusion that the only way to gain attention for a self-published book is some kind of guerilla campaign that straddles the line between legal and illegal.

    Everyone is crawling all over everyone else to get their voice heard. It’s quite shocking and soul destroying.


    1. Part of it is the problem of having Everybody On The Planet (virtually) online, all wanting to sell stuff. You’d think the good stuff would float to the top, but actually it gets lost in the noise.

  2. Well dang – I read this post with nods of agreement and share your view that social media interactions and sales seem mutually incompatible, and I was hoping for a flash of illumination at the end when you explained the answer. But I reached the last sentence, and… nothing! You leave us with the unsolved conundrum! Come on Matthew, you’re a really smart guy – I want to see the untold secrets of how to sell a million books! Don’t keep it to yourself. 🙂

  3. Being known and being talked about is what sells books. And one of the ways to get known is to blog, comment, Facebook, whatever your little social media heart desires. Eventually, you will get known by a handful of people who might buy your books, but more importantly they may mention your name to a handful of others – and then others…. and one day (please?!) you are known. And being talked about. Hurray!
    Keep up the good work, Matthew.

    1. Thanks. It’s the word of mouth that works, for sure. The problem with the web is that everybody has much the same tools – to some extent, sudden discovery by a site like Reddit (‘Redditlanche’, I think it’s called) – is a lottery. But it does happen!

  4. Excellent topic, Matthew. You bring up awesome points! I’ve enjoyed and appreciated (namely indirect) sales due to social media. I think the most powerful perk of social media for authors is the ability to put ourselves and voices out there. The residual effects can be pretty immense, if not quantifiable. 🙂

    1. I agree. Social media leads to discovery, I think – and perhaps opens doors that might not have been evident otherwise. Not direct sales of some product, but more abstract opportunities.

  5. I am unashamed to say that I love social media, perhaps because we are living in a remote place; so it’s good to keep up with global/national discussions and news, I spend an hour or so every morning looking through twitter, Facebook, catching up with a few blogs, and checking the news pages to find out what’s going on around the place, so it is marvellous as a means to connect with the “real” world. Also a nice gentle way to get my brain into gear so I can get on with business. I am kind of addicted I suppose to scrolling through a million posts, but then if that means I am keeping up within my networks, filling my morning head space with art, literature, music, politics, humour…then surely that is a great thing. So many folks bemoan social media but I am an ardent fan; it gives me inspiration, ideas, something to talk about, and a chance to keep astride with issues without which I might become a victim to small town introspection, a country bumpkin (No!!) or worse, lost and forgotten.

    1. Social media of itself is great – it’s possible to make contact with old friends, find new friends (‘penfriends’, in old parlance) and reach out to people all around the world. All predicted decades ago, in most details, by Sir Arthur C. Clarke. The problem for those of us who have something to sell out of it, though, is that it doesn’t…

  6. I completely agree. In fact, over the last six months to a year I’ve been suffering severe social media overload. That overload has led to a diet, but instead of cutting my time per post I read fewer posts. I suspect the expanding social media universe is beginning to slow in its expansion and more people will begin restricting their activity to smaller solar systems. It’s the nature of things that when something becomes too big it breaks up, slims down, or collapses completely.

    1. I think you’re right. It’s true for those of us putting stuff on social media too – I try to keep this blog ‘populated’ as best I can, but it competes with Facebook, Twitter etc. And all of that takes time away from doing other stuff. The whole field seems to be growing at an exponential rate, and I think individual users are being overwhelmed.

    2. I read about that just yesterday. Someone had a fancy name for it. I think the solution is to go visual. My eyes are so tired of all the online reading I do I simply don’t want to read a novel on top of that. And like you say to go more into your niche.

  7. As a consumer, I’ve seen social media as a way to get in touch with stuff I’m glad afterwards I found out about.

    As a writer, this implies I should be finding stuff other people would like to know about if they’d known it was there, but finding the intersection of that and stuff I’m competent to write about is tough.

  8. I had a blog turn into a book, as the publisher found the blog, and asked me to write the book. I’m supposed to be writing a second book, but finding it very hard to find the time in which to do it.

    Having noted that, I’d also note that as far as I know, not one single copy of my book has sold due to the blog. I’ve had a few people find the blog and note it, but I don’t think they’ve purchased a book. And, as I run more than one blog, that impact, or lack thereof, is actually somewhat compounded as an example.

    1. I think it’s pretty much par for the course. I suspect part of the issue is to do with purpose; people read blogs to be entertained, informed – often to browse. They don’t go there to look for a book to buy. That said, I think blogging helps raise profile. But it’s tricky; discovery of the blog, as always, is the difficult part. I suspect sometimes it’s down to chance.

  9. I think you hit the issue on head with a couple of points. There are so many social media platforms that only one occupies limited audience. Try to sell through “only” one and you’re reaching a very limited audience. The other is attention span. With so much available out there in the “internetz” people want to be dazzled with cute kitten videos or they’ll quickly move on to something else.

    While I’m not trying to sell anything through my blog, I not that my shorter flash fiction gets much more traction than the longer fiction. I’m much happier with the longer fiction. I think it’s better, but the web apparently doesn’t agree. The shorter my post, the more popular it is. I truly hope the formula isn’t that simple, but it seems that way.

    I do hope you have better luck selling your books here. I think sometimes the subject matters. If you were a beautiful young girl making youtube videos about fashion, I expect you’d receive a lot more “readership.” Perhaps that’s just me being cynical?

    1. I think cynicism can be a handy analytical tool sometimes! 🙂 I agree – a lot of what makes something popular depends on whether it meets what is socially popular at the time. With books, real sales seem to come only when the book breaks into an audience that would not usuay buy them. I guess that”s also true of blogs. In all cases, discovery seems to be the key, followed by being ‘talked about’. The fact that this worked for ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ but seems not to for our mutual interests (which I think are far more worthy!) says quite a bit about the general nature of wider western society, I suspect.

      1. I just discovered Tubs the other day and have got myself a hashtags #BunnyLady after a bit of a joke with a couple of bloggers. It’s related to my blog header. I’m hoping to have fun with it and see if anyone else starts using it. You could do the same with #NZhistory or something like that.

  10. I’ve also noticed the reduction from 2-3 days to 24 hours. And here I thought it was somehow all my writing’s fault. I’m relieved to find out that even the most pro bloggers are experiencing the same blippage pattern… um… because blippage is so, like, a real word (maybe it is my writing’s fault after all lol).

  11. Very interesting post, Mathew. I’m a reader who wants to be entertained, diverted, and informed. And, as I get more savvy in the blogging world, I’ve noticed that not only am I allergic to direct selling but I am also now avoiding blogs where the content does not develop over time. And worse, I’ve noticed that some blogs I’ve been following for a while have become increasingly light weight. The authors are opting for more posts, more often, presumably in an attempt to attract more readers. It’s like being at an endless smorgasbord where the food is more highly processed with each passing day. When I discover something I can get my teeth in to it’s quite a relief.
    So, is it that attention spans are down, or is it that the content on offer is changing?
    As for buying books, although I don’t like the direct sell, when I do buy a book these days it’s usually the result of a review or recommendation on someone’s blog, somewhere – good ole word of mouth.

    1. I think the reduction of content is part of the phenomenon; bloggers notice the transience and feel it’s not worth putting so much effort into a individual post, perhaps?

  12. I agree it is not the place to SELL books. But, the exposure and communication is important. The exchange of ideas and reinforcement helps to keep one motivated…I’ve heard. Lol.

    1. For me the real return I get from blogging, social media etc is definitely being able to meet and exchange thoughts online. I try not to think about the book sale aspect. Too depressing…:-)

  13. I’m not dissimilar to you in that I started Blogging without any real sense of what was going on, ( no change there ) and after a couple of years a publisher asked me to write a book which I did, including sticking a link of said book on the side of the blog. So un-successful has that link been that I was recently asked in a comments section if I’d written a book. They hadn’t noticed the cover because people mainly go to the current post, if they visit at all, and do not do a walk through your stats,cloud, or any other trivia you choose to display. I have sold some books, but certainly not in anything like the numbers my “following” would suggest. Having said that I blog for the reasons I always have: I enjoy it !

    1. I agree. I began blogging in part to help create a social media platform to help sell books. That didn’t work as a sales platfotm, but blogging is fun and you get to make contact with some excellent people from around the world.

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