Book Promotions Using Swag: What You Need to Know
Every once in a while, I’ll run across a blog that suggests authors use promotional products (often referred to as swag) to promote their books. In theory, and as a former promotional products distributor, I say that’s a great idea.
However, it is also a costly idea, especially for self published authors. You can easily blow your entire book budget and revenues with just one order!
Here's what you need to know.
What are Promotional Products, or Swag?
Promotional products and giveaways, or swag, are physical merchandise such as pens, T-shirts, mugs, etc. that have a logo or marketing message imprinted on them. They are used to market and advertise businesses or causes.
They can be very effective marketing tools due to their staying power. Recipients might keep the imprinted item for years!
How Might Swag be Used for Books?
In many of the blogs or articles I’ve seen, there are lots of creative ways to use swag to promote a book. Custom bookmarks are common for promoting print books. Imprinting the book cover or book title on a T-shirt or mug, adhesive notes, toys... you name it.
An imprinted product could also be an incentive or package deal for a book. For example, a book could be sold with the T-shirt as a package.
Some authors may also want to use a special imprinted promotion when sending a print book to potential book reviewers to gain even more attention.
Why Using Promotional Products (Swag, Branded Merch or Whatever You Call It) Isn't Great for Book Promotions
The Drawback to Using Swag to Promote Books
The biggest drawback to using promotional products for books is cost. The items usually need to be purchased in bulk, often with high minimums in the hundreds. This doesn’t even take into consideration the cost to ship the items to you, setup and artwork charges. A single promotional product order can cost several hundred dollars.
Luckily, with many online printing companies (such as Vistaprint), low minimums for imprinted items are available, even the option of buying only one item. But the cost per item could be several times what it would be if purchased in bulk. Even then, it’s better to purchase a small quantity of a higher priced item than to get stuck with hundreds of dollars of merchandise that you’ll have to store.
How will potential readers get the book’s swag? This is one of the biggest problems. If I remember right, I saw an author who considered mailing swag to his potential readers. That, on top of the high cost of the items, will drain money faster than you can imagine, not to mention the time, effort and postage required to package and ship.
True, items such as flat paper bookmarks might be easy to mail in regular envelopes. But you still have the cost of the item, the envelope, the addressing, and the postage (which in the United States as of this writing is around a half a dollar a stamp). That could still run into the hundreds of dollars.
It’s Promoting a Small Sale with Small Profit
Here’s the biggest reason not to consider promotional products for a book. The per book revenue or royalty you’ll make might be less than the total cost of the promotional item. You might end up making very little, nothing at all, or, at worst, you might sustain a loss.
Promotional products are better suited for promotions aimed at buyers who are frequent repeat customers, or who are making a large purchase (like a car). These items keep the brand name in front of the customer whose lifetime sales value could be several hundred to several thousand dollars.
It May Not Lead to a Sale
A downside of promotional products is that there are lots of people who like getting the item, but aren’t really interested in what or who it promotes. This a problem especially at events and trade shows.
People Don’t Share Swag
If potential readers think the book’s swag is cool, they’re going to keep it. That’s great, but that means that the marketing and sale stops there. They’re not going to pass that cool item along to a friend who could become a buyer. Getting a post or share about your book on Facebook from a reader or reviewer—for free!—could have more impact than that super cool item.
Check Your Ego and Your Budget Before You Check Out
Sure, seeing the title or artwork of your book on an item is an ego booster! But check your budget and your ego before you click the Buy button. Why do you want to use swag to promote your book? What do you hope to gain in total sales and royalties from this promotion? Don’t know? Don’t buy.
Consider other low cost advertising alternatives before book swag.
Print On Demand Isn't Just for Books!
Print On Demand Swag? Yes, It's Possible
One of my author friends announced that she was running a campaign for sales of a custom mug that she had used to help promote her latest book. It was a super cute item. What concerned me was that the campaign was being run as a test before investing in manufacturing and website development for selling the item on a larger scale.
Never, ever invest in product development, manufacturing, or inventory if you don’t have to! This will eat up any profits you make from sales of your book or from your branded swag. In fact, from my many years of experience in both the swag and publishing industries, I can tell you that you would likely incur a loss or even go into debt by doing it yourself.
But there is an alternative. As a self published author, you’re already familiar with how print on demand (POD) works if you use Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). Well, the same opportunity exists for branded “merch” (merchandise), too.
There are companies that will imprint and handle all logistics for branded items such as T-shirts, mugs, art prints, bags, phone cases, and a whole lot more for as small an order as one piece. These are often referred to as fulfillment companies.
Here’s how this model works. The fulfillment company offers you a choice of items you can feature in an online store that they will often host for you for free or a small fee. You upload your your logo or artwork (make sure it's YOUR own artwork, or you have license and permission to use it) to the fulfillment company site. You send your fans to your online store where they can order the item they want.
The fulfillment company then imprints or manufactures the item ordered, handles the transaction, and ships the item to your fan. Sales taxes are usually collected and handled by the fulfillment company, too, which is a big deal considering all the complicated and varied sales tax laws. Make sure you understand how the company will handle the important sales tax issue so you don’t get a nasty surprise tax bill or penalties. The cost of the item, imprinting or manufacturing, shipping costs, and transaction fees are deducted from the total sale, and you get the remaining profit in your bank account. Totally hands off for you, plus you carry zero inventory. You incur costs only when an order is received and processed.
Some popular fulfillment companies include Red Bubble, Printful, Printify, and Print Aura. Do a sample purchase from any fulfillment company you’re considering to see if the imprint and product quality are acceptable. As always, review the terms of service and fees carefully before deciding on one.
Another reason to go with a POD model for swag and branded merch to promote your book is because I think you’ll find that very, very few readers are actually interested in purchasing these items. This really only works for rabid fan bases, like Harry Potter fans. Never overestimate how willing your fans are to buy something that isn't your book.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2019 Heidi Thorne