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Here's how to turn book samples into a powerful B2C tool

Army-2186_640Book samples are one of the most under-utilized tools in a publisher or author's marketing arsenal. Most consumers will not buy a book without at least flipping through it, so many download samples before making a purchase decision. But how many times have you downloaded a sample which was nothing more than the frontmatter and a bit of an introduction? I've run into that problem countless times and those samples didn't lead to me clicking the buy button.

The problem with today's book sampling model is that it's just some random percentage of the first several pages of the book. The fact that this approach involves no curation means it's efficient but, unfortunately, it's also highly ineffective.

Imagine how lame previews would be if movie producers used this same approach? You're sitting in the theater and the teasers for a few upcoming movies are nothing more than the first two minutes of each. That's not how it works with movies, of course, and it offers an important lesson for book publishers: Good samples require curation.

We learned that lesson recently at OSV. Rob Eagar, founder of Wildfire Marketing, is an expert in a freemium model where curated samples are the key ingredient. These samples feature more of the valuable content nuggets and enable readers to get a better sense of what they can expect to find in the full book. You're not giving away all the book's key ingredients, but you're definitely providing readers with more value than they'll find in a typical ebook sample.

These samples are delivered via email, so that means we're able to establish a direct relationship with prospective customers, a critical step for a B2C business model. Having access to those names and email addresses means we're able to build our B2C list and dramatically increase our up-/cross-sell activities.

If you'd like to see what this looks like, click here to visit the OSV freemium landing page. You'll find the first several titles in our freemium campaign and more will be added in the coming months. We're delighted with the initial results and we're looking forward to building this out further as we add to our B2C capabilities.


Michael W. Perry

Quote: "Imagine how lame previews would be if movie producers used this same approach? You're sitting in the theater and the teasers for a few upcoming movies are nothing more than the first two minutes of each."

How true! One of my definitions of a poor movie is one so devoid of interest, they have to use every good scene and line in the movie inside the trailer. That's certainly true of Jurrassic World. The trailer was great. The movie itself was a disappointment.

Sometimes the result of that first percentage as a sample is even worse than you desccribe. I recently downloaded a sample from Amazon that was nothing but an introduction written by someone else. It literally stopped at the end of that introduction. There wasn't a word written by the book's author. Needless to say, I didn't bother to buy it.

I do appreciate the fact that the iBookstore lets me supply a sample of my choice. I know better than a mindless bit of software what sections of the book give readers a good preview of the whole. My only gripe with Apple is its bizarre sample-page upload scheme. Upload pages 16, 32, and 48 in that order and they display as 48, 32, and 16. Didn't anyone at Apple vet that process? It looks sloppy.

Don't forget that the sample or free process needs to be easy. Each month the University of Chicago distributes a free copy of one of its scholarly books to stir up interest. I have found some of interest but have never downloaded one because the process is too slow and convoluted to be worth the bother. Making a sample easy to get is as important as making it free.

I'm glad to see a B2C model that works well. I'd love to see a world develop where for ebooks readers instinctively go first to the publisher not to Amazon. Those who create deserve most of the income. It also keeps power where it belongs, in the hands of authors and publishers rather than that 800-pound gorilla.

--Michael W. Perry, Inkling Books

Adam Engst

I agree that samples are necessary, but they may not actually lead to that many sales. Every one of our Take Control ebooks has a sample that includes the first few pages of every chapter (we've tried a few approaches, but that's easiest and seems to give a representative view of what's in the book) along with a purchase link at the bottom of every page. Those purchase links generate just 1.27% of our sales. Obviously, people may look at the sample and go back to buy from the book page too, or buy at some other time, so it's undoubtedly a lower number than what the sample really generates. But it's still not a major portion of our revenues.

I believe we're doing things about as simply as can be too. The samples are prominently featured on each book page (a graphical Free Sample link) and since they're PDFs, they open directly in the browser now.

If other publishers have better numbers, I'd be interested to hear what they're doing differently.

Interestingly, if we fail to publish a sample, or fail to update the sample after releasing an update to a book, we hear from readers quickly. That, more than the actual sales numbers, is why we think the samples are important. It's just another case where the raw numbers may not be all-important.

cheers... -Adam Engst, Take Control Books

Joe Wikert

Thanks for sharing some of your stats, Adam. It's important to note that an upsell of the sampled book is only one of the benefits of this model. What's also important is to establish a direct relationship with prospective customers, so acquiring their names and email addresses is a critical benefit as well. A publisher/author is then able to share other promotional campaigns with that audience, potentially leading to transactions that might have absolutely nothing to do with the originally-sampled title.

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