21st Century Bookselling

Josie Leavitt - June 20, 2012

It’s not often that I wax rhapsodic about a device, but I have to say the new credit card reader for smart phones has me over the moon. But first, some history about offsite book sales.
In the old days selling books offsite involved hand-writing receipts, doing math and adding tax (which can be a challenge for me as I’m dyslexic) and then ringing up the credit cards with one of the old-fashioned knuckle scrapers, as some call them. You’d position the paper just so and slide the top very fast over the imprinter. Invariably, not all the numbers would be readable, so you’d have to guess, and that’s never a good with banks. A phone number was essential to get as sometimes the cards were declined, but you didn’t ever know that until you went back to the store and manually entered all the sales and waited for confirmations from the credit card company. This system was expensive, as keyed in credit card numbers cost the store more to process. And if a card is declined and you don’t have a phone number, there’s precious little to be done.
Enter phase two of the offsite system: the laptop that allows a store to process sales in the computer without ever writing a sales receipt. But the credit card processing was only marginally better. We’d bring our store credit card machine and either hope for a phone line (we do not have an internet-based system yet) or swipe the cards and then run the whole batch when we got back to work. The problem with this is we’d never know if someone’s card had been declined until well after the event, and phone numbers can be easily forgotten to obtain at a busy event. It hasn’t happened often, but it’s so galling to get stuck with a declined card because of inefficient technology.
Well, along came the card reader and my life has changed. This seemingly simple device allow credit cards to be read from a smart phone. The device’s biggest drawback is its tiny size. I fear I’ll lose mine every time I use it. But the convenience of being able to swipe a credit card and have it fairly instantaneously processed is astounding. We used this little device the other night at an offsite book party for Alison Bechdel. People were thrilled when they were asked to  sign the phone with the tip of their finger, and it caused unaccounted delight in our Vermont customers. One person said, “I feel like I’m in New York City.” People were talking about it all night. I thought it was hilarious. The ability to email or text the receipt saves a ton of paper and more often than not, folks didn’t want them.
By Monday all the money had been deposited in my bank account with the very reasonable fee taken out. The part of this that made me happiest was I haven’t lost the reader. Yet.

6 thoughts on “21st Century Bookselling

  1. Alison

    I’ve seen these readers at fiber festivals – I remember when people would be kind of waving their machines in the air to get a signal. No more! Plus, my bank has given me a credit card that is FLAT. It won’t work with the knuckle-scrapers. I do like this technology – and the email receipts!

  2. Kate

    I’ve got three of the little buggers for use at events, and I love them SO much. I wish I’d had such technology years ago, when I was selling jewelry at shows!

  3. Stephanie

    I LOVE these things! I do quite a few outside events for our bookstore and it is amazing. So much faster than the credit card machines! As well as working at the bookstore, I am the Company Manager for a ballet company and we use it there as well. On top of being the MOST convenient thing around, not having to sign a contract and pay a monthly fee – you only get charged fees when you use it – makes it financially feasible enough. I know we lost business before not being able to accept credit cards.

  4. Vicki

    I love my Square also! We did have an event where the author spoke, we were in the middle of selling his books with a long, long line and our reader just wore out! We now have two that we bring each time – just in case.

  5. Danielle

    The Square readers are changing the game for small, independent businesses to sell their wares offsite. I’ve used one at a book festival in Seattle and the number of books we sold doubled; many people don’t have cash on hand, or they do and its not enough. It’s nice to be able to take advantage of the “instant purchase” mindset that Amazon capitalizes on day in and day out. Square changes the game for indie publishers (and bookstores)… provided the seller has all the latest technology, of course (e.g. an iPhone)!


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