Is It Worth Giving Away Ebooks For Free?

December 19, 2008

Many people give away ebooks for free, as part of their marketing strategy. I’m writing a couple of free ebooks myself, so I’ve been doing a bit of research into ebook sales. And I’ve found that some ebooks work well and others flop, depending on how they’re distributed.

Some People Give Away Free Ebooks To Get Folk To Subscribe To Their Blog

Giving free ebooks to gain subscribers might seem like a good idea but it’s rarely effective. Everybody knows that most of these subscribers will never read another word you’ve written. And you might have been told that high subscriber numbers impress advertisers but most advertisers aren’t that naive. Times are tight and they want to get their ads in front of readers, not subscriber numbers.

Giving Away Ebooks For Free To Make Money From Affiliate Links

This is a little better than giving away free ebooks, just to gain subscribers. But it’s still not ideal. If your reader doesn’t buy when they first click through your affiliate link and their anti-virus, or browser deletes cookies, you’ll lose your commission.

Giving Away Free Ebooks To Get Folk To Subscribe To Your Newsletter

It can be well worth giving away ebooks for free, to get newsletter subscribers. If you have an interesting newsletter, it will help you sell more products and persuade readers to come back to your blog.

But you have to hope those subscribers will actually read your newsletter to begin with. If it’s too frequent, or you try to sell stuff in every copy, most people will just delete it. Plus, you’re only likely to attract readers who visit your website or blog to begin with.

To Get Lots Of Ebook Readers - You Need To Encourage Folk To Pass It On

We live in an era of information overload. Some of that info is good and some of it sucks. So, you need to give someone a damn good reason to download and read your ebook and tell other people to read it too. And unless you’ve written something to rival the Da Vinci Code, or you have millions of readers, your ebook will flop.

So what do you do? You can’t launch a pay per click campaign, or an affiliate campaign, because the ebook is free.

Make Your Free Ebook Viral

This method appeals to me most. But to pull it off, you’ve got to give folk an incentive to pass your ebook on. I discovered how to do this in a simple, short, free ebook I read. It shows you how to write an effective viral book that people will want to pass on. And you also get the opportunity to download a template, to make your own free viral ebooks.

It also shows you how to persuade people to pass on your ebook. And it works, because they’ll get paid for doing so. Your ebook will still be free but there’s an intriguing twist that encourages folk to pay for it.

Plus, you also make money from the ebook yourself. First you profit from some of the sales, because there are two prices. And anyone who opts to sell your ebook, winds up on your mailing list. This is better than having everyone who downloads the book on your list. You’ll get the names of people who are genuinely interested in your topic, so they’ll buy future products from you.

I discovered how to do all this and get a template to create my own free, money making ebook, in this great free viral ebook. And I’m confident it will work for my own product, as I’ve even made money from the free viral ebook.

Do you read ebooks that you’ve been given for free, or do you value paid ebooks more? Do you like the idea of the viral ebook and what would persuade you to recommend a free ebook to others?

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20 Responses to “Is It Worth Giving Away Ebooks For Free?”

  1. wilhb81 on December 19th, 2008 8:17 am

    Cath, I loved this article, as not one will ever reject free stuffs in this world.

    By the way, here is a good software for you to create ebook in no time, check it out…

    For your information, it’s also a free open source software too!

    wilhb81’s last blog post..Business one-liners 32

  2. cathlawson on December 19th, 2008 11:26 am

    Hi Wihlb - I’m glad you like it. And thanks for the free resource for creating PDF files. I bought Sonic Pro a good while ago, as I didn’t know you could get a free one.

  3. Brad Shorr on December 19th, 2008 12:20 pm

    Cath, thank you for another helpful post. I’m trying to learn about e-books and this conversation is very helpful. One thing I don’t understand, and I apologize if this is a dumb question. When someone downloads an e-book, what’s to prevent him from forwarding it on to other readers? If you’re trying to charge for the e-book, could you theoretically sell one copy and yet have hundreds of people read it?

    Brad Shorr’s last blog post..Did You Ever Want to Be the Somethingest Something?

  4. cathlawson on December 19th, 2008 12:40 pm

    Hi Brad - That’s a good question. I believe you can get software for paid ebooks that allows you to apply a password and I’m pretty sure you can also prevent more than one person for reading your book.

    I think that would be something I’d consider. I’m sure other people sell it too - but I did notice a while ago that the Internet Marketing Centre sell that type of software at I don’t know how much they charge for it but I’m betting it isn’t cheap.

    I’m going to be searching for that type of software soon though - so I’ll let you know what I come up with.

    By the way - your email went to my old account - but I was just reading it before and I don’t mind at all. Your project sounds completely different to the one I had in mind anyway. I need to give everyone my new email address.

  5. Brad Shorr on December 19th, 2008 12:47 pm

    Hi Cath, Email updated. Thanks for your response - I assumed all e-books were downloaded/downloadable, but now it makes more sense. BTW, came across this e-book publishing site just now -

    Brad Shorr’s last blog post..Did You Ever Want to Be the Somethingest Something?

  6. Graham Strong on December 19th, 2008 1:23 pm

    Hi Cath,

    I have used free ebooks in the past to attract new clients, and I plan to do so again. Not only does it showcase my own writing and layout skills, but if I do it properly, it helps me sell my services.

    Perhaps this wasn’t quite the “ebook” scenario you were looking for, since this kind of falls into that grey area between ebook and white paper, PDF brochure, etc. But I thought it would be worth mentioning…


    Graham Strong’s last blog post..Creative Ads: Folgers

  7. Craig on December 19th, 2008 3:31 pm

    I’ve never paid for an ebook, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t if I believe the content would be helpful to me. I would consider it paying less than going to a book store for something very similar.

    Spreading the word of an ebook will hopefully gain new readers, get your name out there, build a network and gain credibility. All great things especially to increase your own brand value.

    But of course the money isn’t there. Would it maybe make sense to sell an ebook for a low price, get a lower number of readers, but make money in the process? Can paid ebooks work as well?

  8. John Hoff - eVentureBiz on December 19th, 2008 5:17 pm

    Hi Cath. Whether an ebook is free or not usually doesn’t sway me if I will buy/download it or not; however if it’s free, I’m usually ready for sales pitches or links to send me somewhere for “more info”.

    That’s ok though, I understand how it all works and I’m prepared, so it doesn’t bother me much. But if it doesn’t provide me any real value I typically won’t download anything else.

    I like the idea of viral anything LOL - ebook or not.

    John Hoff - eVentureBiz’s last blog post..Understanding The Psychology Of Your Website Visitors

  9. Stacey / Create a Balance on December 19th, 2008 5:23 pm

    In the fall of 2008 I created a free ebook. Instead of focusing on gaining subscribers, I offered the free ebook as an immediate download. I also encouraged authors/bloggers that were included in the ebook to share this free resource with others. I included affiliate/sponsor links, but do not believe this brought in any money. I’d like to continue writing ebooks and will check out your resources to learn more about incorporating revenue from my efforts.

    Stacey / Create a Balance’s last blog post..Celebrate Your Life Friday! 12.19.2008

  10. Jannie on December 19th, 2008 7:33 pm

    Cath, I very much agree with you on the subject of “you’re only likely to attract readers who visit your website or blog to begin with.” If you are reaching only your regular readers, I guess the trick is how to find new outside readers, perhaps through some kind of SEO blitz? Or write a very compelling and / or amazing adwords ad to get people to your site. Or write an e-book so unique people HAVE to have it?

    And I am wondering if you are at liberty to tell us what the overall or basic theme(s) of your free e-books will be? I’d read anything you wrote.

    Jannie’s last blog post..Yeah, Cindy Lou Who?

  11. Vered - MomGrind on December 19th, 2008 8:18 pm

    I don’t plan on ever writing an eBook (never say never, I know). I was always curious to know why people give eBooks for free and whether it works for them. Thanks for the info!

    Vered - MomGrind’s last blog post..Last-Minute Holiday Shopping? May I Suggest The Perfect Gift

  12. NaTuRal on December 19th, 2008 10:14 pm

    sometimes i read the free ebooks, a lot of times, i browse them. if it’s something on writing, i might spend a little more time reading it.

    i am more likely to sign up for something though if it’s useful, like an e- book. as long as i can read it later, i leave it on my computer.

    NaTuRal’s last blog post..You?re So Vain You Probably Think This Post Is About You

  13. Hunter Nuttall on December 19th, 2008 11:10 pm

    @ Brad, you’re right. There’s nothing stopping someone from buying an ebook and emailing it to people. Fortunately, that probably doesn’t happen all that often. The kind of person willing to pay for an ebook is probably ethical enough not to rip off the author. You can set up a Google alert to keep an eye on your ebook…who’s talking about it, and who’s (God forbid) posting it on their site.

    @ Cath, the viral ebook looks interesting, thanks.

    Hunter Nuttall’s last blog post..Twitter - Social Media’s Hidden Gem

  14. Davina on December 20th, 2008 12:24 am

    Hi Cath. I read free ebooks and paid ebooks. Because I’ve paid money for the latter, I am quicker to pay attention to them.

    I like the idea of the viral ebook, but I don’t get how a person makes money from a free ebook. I feel stupid… no one else asked this question. Did I miss something? Anyway, I downloaded Harvey Segal’s free ebook so I guess I’ll find out soon enough.

    I would recommend a free ebook to others if 1) I respected the author, 2) I had read it and found the information might be valuable to them.

    Davina’s last blog post..A Positively Dysfunctional Christmas

  15. Cath Lawson on December 20th, 2008 2:05 am

    Hi Graham - That’s an excellent way to promote your services. There’s kind of a grey area between white papers, reports and ebooks anyway, as some ebooks are so short.

    The first ebook I sold was short - so I called it a guide. I don’t remember how short but it was less than 30 pages, so I only charged $10 for it. I know you could buy a book for that much - but it did help each reader save hundreds of dollars.

    Hi Craig - a lot of ebooks are far more expensive than you’d pay for a regular book - particularly anything connected with Internet Marketing.

    For a while - the average seemed to be $47 but I’ve noticed that a few have dropped their prices. But some people charge as much as $97, which I think is ridiculous, as Ebooks are rarely anywhere near as long as regular books.

    I guess selling many for less would be an idea. Lynn Terry sells one for only $10 a copy. I haven’t read it but folk who are fairly new to Internet Marketing seem to enjoy it, so I expect she sells quite a few.

    LOL John - That was weird. I was just thinking about you & wondering how you were getting on, as you said you were taking time away from blogging. You must be telepathic.

    Like you - I won’t buy anything if the free sales guide has no value at all. A few years ago, I bought an investment newsletter after reading the free 12 page guide. It was written brilliantly and I knew that if they were giving that free, the newsletter was worth £400 a year. So, it’s definitely worthwhile putting together something that makes folk want to buy your product.

    Hi Stacey - I remember you doing that - I wanted to participate but I was too pushed for time, as I’d already committed myself to Heroes of Healing. Perhaps you could try this viral method? Or use a free book to sell a product or service?

    Hi Jannie - I guess, if the free ebook was going to make you money somehow, you could use an adwords campaign - if it was going to be cost effective. That’s what the first ebook is about - How not to get ripped off in marketing and advertising.

    The second will just be a short book about making money. I’m tired of the folk who sell things that don’t work, so that one might annoy a few people. But I hate that some people make a huge profit from folk by getting them to do stuff that doesn’t work. The buyers are not only losing money but also a heap of time.

    An SEO blitz would be interesting. I guess you’d have to put a lot of hours in to get a reasonable amount of traffic fairly quickly though.

    Hi Vered - I guessed you might say that. I loved the hilarious Christmas present ads you wrote about today by the way.

    Hi Valerie - It’s funny you should say that - I like ebooks on writing too and I know articles for freelancers always go down well on here.

    It’s remembering to read the ebooks I buy that’s the problem though. I bought Rockstar Freelancer to review on here. But as with many reviews, I speed read to see how useful it was and read bits of it. Trouble is, I’ve not gone back and read it properly.

    Hi Hunter - I’ll have to take a look at Google alerts. But as you say - few people are likely to share your ebook and you would hope folk wouldn’t start selling copies to others.

    I’d be interested to know what you think of the viral book. I’d really like to see if it worked using the same formula for a different topic. I’m betting most folk don’t try - they just sell the viral book as it’s easier. But it would be great if it did work for other ebooks.

    Hi Davina - I did try to explain it but I deleted it, as I figured it would be easier to understand if folk just read the book. It’s a smart idea. And I guess if people like it enough they’ll sell it to others. But as I said to Hunter, I bet few get round to using the template to make their own book.

    Cath Lawson’s last blog post..Is It Worth Giving Away Ebooks For Free?

  16. cathlawson on December 20th, 2008 2:21 am

    Hi Brad - That sounds like a pretty good site. Liz Strauss sent me a link to an interesting one also. I’ll email you, then you can work out which would be best for you.

    My email is a major pain. I’m trying to switch over to gmail but I’ve not let everyone know yet. And my blog email is still being directed to aol but I get too much spam in there and wind up not seeing all the emails. Also, my gravatar is linked to my old email, which is why I use it in comments.

    I’ll send you the new address and I’ll make a conscious effort to let everyone else have it. Trouble is, I’m trying to do them manually - as I don’t want to send the spammers my new address.

  17. Shirley on December 20th, 2008 2:27 am

    Yeh, I agree that ebooks are a great marketing tool. I couldn’t imagine charging for them, but embedding sponsor links is a great idea.

    And if well-written and widely distributed, the eBook could increase the popularity of a website, as impressed readers will visit the site looking for more quality information.

    Shirley’s last blog post..Lorem Ipsum… Blah, Blah, Blah

  18. John Hoff - eVentureBiz on December 20th, 2008 3:18 am

    @ Cath - I only wish I were telepathic ;)

    Definitely the key to ebooks I would think is making sure they provide real value and solve the person’s problem.

    John Hoff - eVentureBiz’s last blog post..Understanding The Psychology Of Your Website Visitors

  19. Play Games Win Prizes on December 21st, 2008 5:10 am

    eBook writing seems to be every bloggers’ accomplishment these past months. There isn’t really a blog without their own eBook anymore, lol.

    I spoke to a buddy of mine a week ago that interview online entrepreneurs that have some sort of fame. He told me that these type of books are NEVER for the buyers, but more for the owner him/herself. The book is mainly there to make money and continue to make money, but all the information is all on the Internet.


  20. Kim Woodbridge on December 21st, 2008 5:12 pm

    I’ve been thinking about ebooks a lot lately but haven’t decided how I’m going to approach it yet. I think charging even a nominal amount is best for me but I might want to have something for free as a thank you or incentive for potential clients.

    Kim Woodbridge’s last blog post..(Anti) Social-Lists 12/21/08

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