B&N's Nook Platform is Rough Around the Edges
Disappointed by Google

Rethinking Samples

I'm bored with ebook samples. I feel like I'm collecting a bunch and then forgetting about most of them. I'm pretty sure I'm not alone and I'm even more certain this adds up to a ton of missed sales opportunities. Although this would be impossible to prove, my gut tells me the revenue missed by not converting samples into sales is a much larger figure than the revenue lost to piracy. And yet the publishing industry spends a small fortune every year in DRM but treats samples as an afterthought.

Think about it. Someone who pulls down a sample is already interested in your product. They're asking you to win them over with the material you provide. Far too often though that material is nothing more than the frontmatter and a few pages of the first chapter. Some of the samples I've downloaded don't even go past the frontmatter. I'm looking for something more.

Let's start with the index. Would it really be that hard to add the index to ebook samples? No. And yet I've never seen a sample with the index included. Sure, many of these books have indexes that can be viewed separately on the ebook's catalog page, but why not include them in the sample? Give me a sense of what amount of coverage I can expect on every topic right there in the sample.

How about taking it up a notch? Give me the first X pages of the full content, include the entire index at the end and in between include the rest of the book, but have every other word or two X'd out? That way I can flip through the entire book and get a better sense of how extensively each topic is covered. Btw, if the entire book is included like this then the index can include links back to the pages they reference.

Next up, why do I have to search and retrieve samples? Why can't they be configured to automatically come to me? After awhile a retailer should be able to figure out a customer's interests. So why not let that customer opt in to auto sample delivery of ebooks that match their interests? I love baseball. Send me the samples of every new baseball book that comes out. I've got plenty of memory available in my e-reader and I can delete any samples I don't want. I've also mentioned this before but it's worth saying again: How about letting me subscribe to samples from specific authors? Again, it would be an opt-in program but I wonder how many interesting books I've missed because I didn't discover the sample.

Finally, this problem doesn't appear till after the sample is converted into a sale but why can't the newly downloaded ebook open up to where I left off in the sample? Seriously, this has got to be one of the easiest annoyances to fix, so why hasn't anyone taken the time to do so?


Russell Jones

Great post. I hate sample content for the most part, because it’s as if you walked into a bookstore, decided you were interested in a book, and then an attendant would let you read only part of one chapter--worse, one that they chose for you. I don’t like the idea of having every word x’d out, though, that would simply be irritating.

Here’s another possibility. Give me the option to get the entire book as a sample, but put it on a timer, so that the file gets deleted after, say, 15 minutes (or whatever time seems reasonable for that particular book) from the time I first open it, or until I select “Buy” or “Don’t Want.” That way, I could examine the entire book, but I wouldn’t have multiple samples on my device that I had forgotten to delete. If I elected to buy the book, the supplier could simply flip the timer switch, my place would be maintained, and I wouldn’t have to download the same content twice.

Ken Jones

I like Russell’s time-bombed idea for book samples. Most of the software samples I download are limited in some way – either by duration or content (certain features are disabled). When I buy the software, I get a code that activates the sample, giving me a full working version. Why not do that with book samples? This solves at least two problems:

• The original sample is converted to the full book, so the sample doesn’t continue to reside separately on my e-reader. I can always delete the sample, but why require a customer to take that extra step.
• When the original sample is converted to the full book, it can open up to where you left off in the sample (a suggestion Joe mentions in his post).

I’m not all that excited about one of the suggestions in Joe’s post: "Next up, why do I have to search and retrieve samples? Why can't they be configured to automatically come to me? After awhile a retailer should be able to figure out a customer's interests. So why not let that customer opt in to auto sample delivery of ebooks that match their interests?"

I’d prefer to have more control over what’s downloaded to my e-reader. I don’t mind a “what’s new” email from the retailer, based on my interests, and I subscribe to a few from Amazon already. But I have enough samples on my Kindle (over 100). I’d like to decide on a book-by-book basis, rather than by category.


Joe - love your blog and the topic. I think the call to rethink samples is right on but why not make 30% or more of the book available - if it's compelling, I think most readers will pay for the entire book...giving 30-40% away doesn't jeopardize sales opptys...it magnifies them.

I suspect publishers will learn what content marketers already know about how people buy - giving content away will increase engagement leading to more sales.

Joe Wikert

Russell, I love the timer idea. It's definitely worthy of experimentation, even if it only helps readers automatically clear out all those unwanted sample files!

Ken, you're absolutely right about all of us needing individual control over what comes onto the device. That's why I suggested the customer would have to opt in to the auto-download service I described.

Andreyee, you raise a very interesting point about how much sample content is enough. I tend to agree that 30-40% could be a positive for customers and publishers. This is something that needs more analysis at a variety of percentages to help us determine the optimal amount of sample content. It will probably vary by genre and maybe even by book, but it's pretty naive of us as an industry to think that a flat percentage works best on everything.

John Hunter

Including a decent amount of material in the sample seems like the easiest and most sensible thing to fix first. As you say at the very least include the entire table of contents and I think at least 10% of the book (especially if it isn't a very established author). I published my first book and include 35% of the book in the sample.

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