Friday, November 4, 2016

Can Web Sites Sell Anything to Writers? Part 4, Step 3: Maintain Trust

Following up on Parts 1, 2, and 3: is Part 4 of how to sell things (eventually) to people who go online to earn money, not to spend it: maintain trust.

Now that you’ve built trust and contributed to our being able to spend money on non-essential items, don’t spoil it. When buying product reviews from me, at least, you will have learned to use (a) postal money orders (highly recommended) or (b) Paypal. Paypal is U.S.-based; other similar sites work better in some other countries, but so far Paypal has no competition in these United States.

Anyway, either postal money orders or an established, anonymous online money transfer site should be the primary ways you process payments, too. Never expect us older, warier, more financially stable types ever to put an individual name, home address, live phone number, etc., on the Internet. In fact, you build trust by not accepting that information if anyone is ignorant enough to type it into a web page! A web form that specifies “Username (do not use your real name)” boosts your credibility with me. On the Internet, use screen or business names, mail-drop addresses, and e-mail only.

Some people want to put their credit card information online. In my part of the world those people are known as “fools.” I’m not saying your web site should never accept credit card payments, but you really can boost your credibility a little further, with me at least, by discouraging the credit-card debt cycle with a little cautionary note about the dangers of transferring personal or financial information electronically. I don’t handle credit cards at all, in real life or in cyberspace. I have more respect for you if you don’t either. People who are determined to use credit cards can, after all, use them to send money through Paypal.

Resist all temptations to push for “follow-up sales.” How bad can it be to ask whether a customer with a nice Internet-suitable name like “Blueink from” is male or female? Maybe not so bad if all you do with the information is address correspondence to Ms. or Mr. Blueink, but it could be very bad if you leap in (the way some deplorable web sites have already done) with a blitz of gender-specific ads! One reason: Blueink may blame you for those ads. Another reason: Blueink may be one of those individuals who identify with one gender or the other but who don’t conform to the advertisers’ stereotypes of that gender. We are not talking exclusively about men who dislike pornography (or dislike heterosexual pornography) here. We’re also talking about men who don’t watch football and women who would never seriously consider buying clothes online. Nobody likes to feel “targeted” even by gender-specific or geographically-specific ads.

Never sell, share, or publicly display anyone’s contact information. Nobody likes spam.

In fact, you should consider making people ask for subscriptions to any follow-up e-mails you may send out. This use of reverse psychology has the potential to generate a whole new stream of revenue: If you can attract really choice guest blog posts that support your product in a subtle, informative way, you just might be able to create a’zine to which some people actually pay to subscribe.

People who pay in advance for copies of Interweave Knits are fully aware that that magazine was created to help a publisher market knitting pattern books, while people who’ve walked fifteen miles to buy copies of Knitter’s know very well that that magazine existed (during its years of greatness) to help a small group of friends market expensive yarn and expensive books and expensive annual conventions…but we didn’t mind. In fact we’ve bought as many of the expensive books and yarns and convention “classes” as we could,year after year. Why? Because the printed magazines were useful and informative and drew us into that circle of friends whether we bought the stuff or not—so we wanted to buy the stuff. Knitters may be predominantly introverts but we are sociable, in our way; we missed Elizabeth Zimmermann, we empathized with Meg Swansen, we thought Lily Chin was cute as a button, and we wanted to connect with them by knitting things inspired by things they knitted.

’Zines (some prefer “e-zines”) like are moving into some markets—so far narrow niche markets—by learning from the examples of the great printed magazines. (Since I don’t know which other’zines have become equally respectable, let’s stick with Knitty as an example.) Although Knitty is a web site readers can not only read but print free of charge, it seems to support itself by selling the expensive yarns it features. It’s printer-friendly, with enough gorgeous full-color pictures to catch readers’ eye, but not enough to clutter up the patterns readers choose to copy or print. It does not annoy readers with intrusive or irrelevant ads; it markets yarn in a reader-friendly way by enticing readers to buy, if not the yarn shown in the picture, at least similar yarns from the same sources. Many readers don't even recognize the pictures of the things they'd like to knit, or have a friend knit for them, as the ads they are!

While Knitty may be well advised to continue competing with the printed magazines in its field on price alone, due to the narrowness of its market niche, it’s been competing for yarn advertising traffic quite effectively for about twenty years now. I doubt that Knitty is making anyone wealthy, but it is moving some expensive yarns.

So, why not take’zines like Knitty as your role model? Why spam when you could (perhaps, over time) build a great’zine?  

(The writer known as Priscilla King welcomes comments, and never sends out bulk e-mails, because her goal is to build her web site into a literary’zine.)

(The Amazon link for this post...celebrates the best known of the writing/knitting/blogging/marketing geniuses behind Knitty. I don't own a copy of this book, but I'd like to.)