Previous month:
December 2009
Next month:
February 2010

5 posts from January 2010

Adding the Word "Free" to Your Marketing Dictionary

Picture 1Today's post is courtesy of Ben Richter, eReader enthusiast and owner of, a review site for eReaders, tablets and ebooks.  Ben wrote this as a follow-up to my earlier plea for Amazon to share the data related to free Kindle content.  Here's what Ben has to say:

In today's marketing world, both online and offline, it's getting harder and harder to put your product in front of potential shoppers. The internet has turned the world upside down, and although there are more ways today to promote your product, the competition is getting tougher. So, how can you, as a publisher or as an author, get more people to read your new creation? 

The answer is quite surprising. You need to give your product away for free. Like Joe mentioned in his last post, if you browse through Amazon's bestseller list, you'll find a bunch of free ebooks. If Amazon is doing it, then there has to be something useful about it.

So, how can you make money by giving away your ebook for free? Here are some interesting action plans:

  1. Give away your 1st book for free, charge more money on your next ones: The first impression is also the most important one. Offering your first book for free will get plenty of potential readers to click the download button. If your book is good, they might be curious enough to buy your next one for a higher price. You can see it as a first date. If you made the right impressions, there will be a second one. Another option is to offer your older books for free, when a customer buys your latest one. Kind of a 2 for 1 deal.

  2. Integrate ads inside your ebook: Sounds like a pretty strange idea don't you think? It sort of takes the romance out of books and turns them into magazines. This idea has never hit the mainstream but it might be a good concept going forward. The ads don't have to be full page ones, they can be textual, embedded nicely in the text. Here is an example: A company called InfoLinks is offering a service called In-text advertising. It basically inserts text link advertisements within the content of your website (or ebook in our case), usually in the form of double-underline hyperlinks. When the reader hovers their mouse over one of these, a floating informational bubble opens with content from an advertiser. If clicked, the visitor is directed to the advertiser’s landing page and you earn advertising revenue; otherwise, when the mouse is moved away from the hyperlink, the bubble disappears.

    As you are being paid for each click, it is only a question of how popular your book will be. The more you sell, the more money you make. And because you're giving away your book for free, you'll probably move quite a few copies. In order for this idea to work, eReaders need to support 3G or Wi-Fi as well as have a more sophisticated display than the current eInk versions found on the Kindle, for example. With the current, fast-paced developments, it is only a matter of time until they do. And don't forget about the smartphones and tablets that already support this. 

  3. Limited Time Offer On Your Book: The hardest thing to do is create the initial buzz around your book. So why not offer a limited amount of books for free? Let's say the first 1000 copies will be free… People just love those limited time offers. It makes them think they're missing out on something. If your book is good, this initial buzz could lead to other people buying it at full price.

  4. Social Market Your eBook: My opinion is that book publishers are not taking advantage of the features eReaders offer. We tend to forget that an eReader is much more than just an electronic gadget with a screen. We might want to look at it as a gate to the web as well! Imagine all the possibilities it might have while connected to the internet… A reader can share her reading experience with her friends on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks while reading the book, helping you as a publisher to social market your book. Maybe, instead of looking on ebooks as books, we should look at them as webpages? 

The bottom line: The world of ebooks and eReaders is only starting to evolve. Competition will get tougher, book prices will go down. Publishers and authors have to think of new ways to make money. I believe books won't remain ad-free forever.

P.S. from Joe: I disagree with Ben's notion that ebook prices will remain low or get pushed down even further.  Amazon's approach with the Kindle simply leverages content ported from print to e without adding any value.  I believe Apple's upcoming iPad device opens the door to a much richer content model.  Richer content and more functionality should allow us all to create products more valuable than 99-cent apps and $9.99 quickie print-to-e conversions.  I want to give this more consideration and follow-up with a detailed post on it shortly...

Amazon, Share the Data! (Please?...)

Chart2It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that free books are popular on the Kindle.  Take a look at the Kindle book bestseller list on any given day and you're likely to find a bunch of zero-priced items.  Even as I write this post I see that 14 of the top 25 titles are free.

"Selling" these free titles is easy and their publishers/authors obviously have something bigger in mind than just giving away content.  Many are hoping to be discovered, thereby broadening their audience so that these new fans will actually pay for the next title in the series, for example.  Kindle freebies have been around pretty much since day one, but where's the data to show whether they're successful or not?  Of course, "success" may have multiple definitions here, but still, why isn't anyone talking about the results?

This recent NY Times article made me wonder even more about this.  When I tweeted the same question over the weekend, fellow twitterer @kindleworld mentioned the confidentiality issue.  That's fair, and even though there are ways to describe results without breaking the rules, it would be better if the rules would just go away.

How about this solution?: Amazon summarizes the results and shares it with the industry.  They don't have to name specific titles, authors or publishers.  They'd just talk about percentage increases after zero-pricing went in effect and also share percentages (and as many other specifics as possible) on the effect this had on the publisher/author's related titles (up, down, no change).

Why wouldn't Amazon want to share this information?!  They say they want to be the leaders in all things content, so why not take a leadership role here by summarizing and sharing the results?  Amazon is a data machine.  They've got all the numbers and plenty of insightful talent to analyze and write this up.

How about it, Mr. Bezos?  Can you have someone do this as a service for the community?

(Btw, it's interesting that the same scenario isn't playing out on the Nook.  It's still very early in the Nook's life but you have to dig pretty hard to find the freebie for it.  Several of the publishers/authors of the free Kindle editions aren't trying the same experiment on the Nook.  Heck, some of them don't even have a Nook edition of the book they're giving away on the Kindle.  Interesting.  I flipped through several pages of the Nook's bestseller list and never did see a free edition.  Only by searching for a few specific titles did I come across this one.)

Has the Magazine Industry Heard of the iPhone?

Mag stackWhat is the magazine industry waiting for?  The iPhone is now 3 years old and there appears to be little to no interest in creating paid apps with their content.  Go to the App Store, search for "magazine" and look at the hodgepodge results.

Many of the ones that actually have apps treat them more like news feeds than new ways of rendering their magazine (e.g,. see the Sports Illustrated app, for example).  Hey, I've got plenty of news apps already.  If I'm taking the time to download your app it's because I want the magazine content, not another news feed.

I shouldn't complain because most of the magazine apps out there are free, right?  Wrong!  I'll pay a monthly subscription price for this app if you'll just get me the content I want.

Here's a good example: My BusinessWeek print subscription just lapsed.  I tried the Kindle version but was underwhelmed thanks to missing content and the awful way magazines are rendered on it.  I can either renew the print subscription for $40 or go with the lesser Kindle edition at $2.49/month, or roughly $30/year.  I'm opting for the Kindle version, but only because I can stop it at any time.  I'd pay more than $2.50/month for a great iPhone app version though.

Of course we've all heard about a number of new and interesting devices on the horizon, several of which sound like a good fit for magazines.  That's wonderful for everyone with a few hundred bucks burning a hole in their pockets, but why not take advantage of the platform that's already in millions of peoples hands?!

Eliminating the Kindle Content Middleman

NewspaperDirectDear content owners/producers/publishers, please wake up!  Why does everyone assume that you have to go through Amazon if you want to reach Kindle customers?  That's simply not true and NewspaperDirect is the latest service to prove the point.

One of my biggest frustrations with the Kindle is the limited content that's available for it.  300,000, 400,000 or even a million titles sounds like a lot...till the title you want isn't included in that total.  That happens to me about half the time and it's an even bigger problem with newspapers and magazines.  The Kindle is more than 2 years old and for the longest time there were only a couple dozen newspapers available for it.  Even today there's still less than 100, and that number includes a lot of recent (and if customer comments are any indication, lame) additions to the service.

Enter NewspaperDirect.  As their press release indicates, they're offering Kindle versions of more than 1,400 newspapers and magazines from 93 countries.  1,400+.  Wow.  OK, the downside is that you have to manually load the content from your computer to your Kindle via USB cable.  Bummer.  Why don't they just partner with KindleFeeder and enable wireless delivery like KindleFeeder's RSS service?  (And even if Amazon ultimately deems that a violation of its terms of service, how about creating a simple desktop app that automatically pushes the content to my Kindle if it's connected via USB so that I don't have to do it manually?)

Btw, one of my other complaints about Kindle newspapers is how they're rendered on the device.  All the Kindle newspapers and magazines I've subscribed to scored well on text but poorly on design.  NewspaperDirect's approach is far from perfect, but as you can see from the demo video below, at least they let you see the original formatted page.  Come on, Amazon...why haven't you already implemented this feature on your own subscriptions?!

My employer, O'Reilly Media, Inc., also sells Kindle content directly, btw.  We sell it from our own website as well as on Amazon's site.  I'm amazed that almost no other publisher has gone with this same two-pronged approach.  The e-content world needs more NewspaperDirect's and O'Reilly's to prevent Amazon from becoming the only outlet for Kindle content.

2010 Predictions

Binoculars It's that time of the year. Time for new year's resolutions and predictions.  I won't bore you with the former but I'll take a crack at a few of the latter.

#1 -- The year of the richer ebook. Let's face it.  The e-future of this industry is not quick-and-dirty p-to-e conversions.  Pricing pressures and  value propositions mean these will be nothing more than revenue rounding errors for the foreseeable future.  2010 will be the year where we'll see more investment in richer e-content products.  I'm not talking about simply slapping some video into a book, btw.  We'll see more digital-first initiatives where the print version, if there even is one, will be considered secondary.  Start thinking about not just reading but overall entertainment. Think also about the capabilities of multi-function devices, not dedicated e-readers.  More on that in a moment...

#2 -- Most publishers will largely ignore prediction #1.  Call it another case of "The Innovator's Dilemma".  Far too many publishers will continue treating e-content as an easy way to squeeze a few more bucks out of Kindle editions of print products.  Those publishers should remember that the core concept behind "The Innovator's Dilemma" is that this approach leaves the door wide open for a start-up to reinvent the entire industry.

#3 -- Single-purpose, dedicated devices lose momentum to multi-purpose ones.  Thanks in large part to prediction #1, more and more prospective customers will find it harder to justify a $300 investment in a dedicated device.  (Btw, I had a chance to play with a Nook at B&N recently.  I saw the potential but left discouraged.  They went to the trouble of adding a color display and do almost nothing with it.  And why in the world don't they open the device up to third-party developers to see what new and exciting uses the could come up with?!  But I digress...)

I'd like to clarify the point of this third prediction.  Apple already sells a lot more iPhones each month than Amazon sells of the Kindle.  I'm not talking about installed bases; I'm talking about how the devices are being used.  Most people probably wouldn't say they use their iPhone to do a lot of traditional reading today.  That's mostly because the longer-length products available are those quick-and-dirty p-to-e conversions I mentioned earlier.  As we see more digital-first products though, I believe this rate will rise dramatically.  And that's regardless of whether Apple ever comes out with their rumored tabled device!

That's a glimpse of where I see things heading.  Do you agree or disagree?  Do you have any other predictions you'd like to add to this list?