Accepting card payments at book events is easier than you might think. Simon Whaley chats to two authors who think plastic is fantastic.
The Covid pandemic affected writers in many ways. Some found the forced lockdowns stifled their creativity, while others thrived in them. But with face-to-face events prohibited, many authors used to selling their books direct had to prioritise online sales.
When life returned to something more normal, face-to-face author events also resumed, but Covid has still left its mark. People carry less cash these days, with many preferring card payments instead.
According to UK Finance, which represents the UK banking and financial sector, only 15% of all financial transactions in 2021 were made by cash, whereas debit cards accounted for 48% of all payments.
Before the pandemic, whenever attending an author event where I could sell copies of my books, I would gather as much loose change as possible to ensure I had a sizeable cash float. Since Covid, my new priority is checking my card payment reader is fully charged.
My first non-cash transaction at a Meet the Author event didn’t even involve a plastic card. Instead, I uttered the phrase, “Apple Watch? That’ll do nicely!”
There are several companies that offer small, portable card readers (see Business Directory), which anyone can use to accept card or contactless payments. Most of these devices are as small as a standard square Post-It note, which means they slip into a pocket easily.
Designed for sole traders, they’re perfect for writers selling books, poetry pamphlets, or other products at events.
All these devices offer contactless payment, so customers with smart devices who’ve activated their Apple Pay, Google Pay, or Samsung Pay wallets can simply tap and spend. All these card readers will also accept all the common card payment systems, including Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Maestro, Visa Electron, and many more.
Thanks to modern technology, accepting payments by card, watch, or smartphone is easy. All that’s needed is a card payment reader and a smartphone. The card payment reader connects to the smartphone via bluetooth, and the smartphone processes the transaction via an app provided by the card payment reader company.
There are several businesses offering this service, including Square, SumUp, Zettle (part of PayPal), and Barclaycard.
We can purchase card readers for a one-off payment, ranging from £19 to £39 plus VAT. After that, the card processors deduct a handling of fee between 1.69% and 1.75% on most transactions. Therefore, authors selling a £8.99 paperback to a customer paying by card would receive £8.83.
Once we’ve bought a card reader, we need to set up an account on the card reader app, with all our banking details, so they know where to send our money. After that, the transaction fee is the only ongoing cost, and it was this that attracted Deborah E Wilson, author of An Artist’s Muse, to getting her card reader.
‘I use the Square Reader. I chose it for the price point, around £20, the easy portability and because they take a small percentage of each sale, rather than charging a monthly fee to use. This suits me as I don’t use the reader every month, only as-and-when I attend an event. It works through both contactless and chip-and-pin.’
Deborah is also convinced that offering card payment options has increased her readership.
‘Having this method has definitely led to more sales. Several people I have met have chosen to pay by card over paying in cash, when given the option. It also saves customers the search for a cash machine! PayPal works fine for free, but only if the purchaser has a reliable internet connection on their phone and a PayPal account. It can be time-consuming as well. It’s so much easier to tap a card!’
P R Ellis is the author of the Jasmine Frame detective series, and has just published her new madcap fantasy novel, An Extraordinary Tale: A Gnome’s Odyssey. Penny regularly attends author events and wouldn’t be without her card reader now, although she initially had problems with her first device.
‘I have a SumUp reader that links to my mobile phone. I originally purchased a cheaper Square model, but it failed to make contact with the phone I had at the time. The SumUp was the next cheapest but did all that I wanted it to do and it has worked very well.’
Like Deborah, Penny agrees that a card reader helps her to sell more books.
‘A high proportion of sales at events since I got the reader have been card purchases. I have used it at events when I am the sole trader and fairs where I link up with a number of other writers to sell our books collectively. I’ve only had the reader for a little over a year, but I think it was the pandemic that persuaded many more people to rely on contactless cards rather than change. I think it has become essential now for sellers to have a card reader.’
All the magic happens via the smartphone app, provided by the card reader company. This means our smartphones need an internet connection, via Wi-Fi or a mobile signal, for the payment to be processed, to ensure that the customer has funds in their account and to check that the card has not been stopped.
But just like in the shops, this only takes a matter of seconds.
‘The device is incredibly easy to use, all through the Square app on my phone,’ Deborah explains. ‘I’ve had no technical issues at all. The device is ready to go instantly and holds its charge for a full day, no problem. The only technical issue I could foresee is poor phone signal at a venue affecting the link to the device, but fortunately, I’ve not encountered this so far.’
Penny agrees that the processing is simple and quick.
‘I open the app on my phone, switch on the reader, making sure that the battery was previously fully charged, and hey presto, they are linked by Bluetooth. I tap in the sum of money and a reference, usually part of the book title, on the app. The amount appears on the reader, the buyer holds their card over it, and the purchase is made. Sometimes it fails to go through and the procedure is repeated, but it is quick. I have found that a problem is caused if the reader and phone are too close together, although I haven’t had any unresolvable issues.’
Handling the transaction is only part of the story. The important part is how long it takes the money to arrive in the bank account. All these companies will transfer your funds into your account on the next working day, which is ideal for most authors. Some companies allow for the same day deposit of transactions, but there is an additional charge for this service. That may be useful for bigger companies, but for writers the free next-day service is more than adequate.
‘The events I attend have always been at the weekend,’ says Deborah, ‘so the money lands in my account on the next working day, and I’ve had no delays with this.’
Penny’s experience has been similar.
‘Money from sales appears in my SumUp account the following day. You can use the SumUp account like a bank account and pay bills direct but I usually transfer all the proceeds to my bank account pretty quickly. The transfer happens almost immediately. The phone app is sufficient for monitoring transactions, but I also log into the account on my desktop computer, which makes keeping records a little easier.’
Some apps allow sellers to create an inventory page where you can list all your books and upload their front cover images. This can be really useful for authors who’ve written several books. When making a sale, simply tap on the relevant front covers being bought and the app will calculate the total transaction cost.
Alternatively, you can tap in the amounts using the on-screen keypad, select any discounts you want to offer, and then complete the transaction that way.
Covid may have changed the way we pay for things, but accepting card payments is a convenient way of selling books directly to the public at events. In Deborah’s opinion, it makes sense to move with the times and the devices are easy to use.
‘You don’t need to be hugely techno-savvy, and in an increasingly cashless society, it seems to be the way forward. I would strongly advise getting one.’
While all the card readers are pretty similar in the way they work, there are a few differences, so Penny recommends doing a little research beforehand.
‘Have a look at the various models that are available. The prices vary, although there are often special offers, and some readers have extra features. Check the specifications to make sure that the one you want is compatible with your phone—there shouldn’t be a problem if your phone is less than two years old. Don’t worry if you don’t do in-person sales very often, I don’t either. You are only charged when you make a sale. There is no monthly charge or subscription. I recommend it.’
Cash will still be important to many readers, but most now prefer paying by card. Don’t lose out on sales, or future readers, because your writing business can’t accept card payments.
Business Directory-Card Reader Providers
The following businesses offer card readers and an accompanying app to download to your smartphone. The apps all work on iOS and Android phones.
Zettle (PayPal): https://www.zettle.com/gb
Barclaycard SmartPay: https://www.barclaycard.co.uk/business/accepting-payments/card-readers/pay-as-you-go