The free sample is a tried-and-true marketing device, and it is essential for online acim bookstore selling. To give away a book’s content may seem counterproductive to selling the book, but as charities like to say, there are many levels of giving. Online book marketing does not mean standing on the street corner passing out bound copies, but it definitely should include a free download of a book excerpt or sometimes even the whole book.
The public and publishers have been reportedly underwhelmed by ebooks, but the fact is that people do look at ebooks and sometimes even buy them. A free digital version of a book excerpt at an author’s or publisher’s website can draw readers in and convert some of them to buyers.
The first two points above can easily apply to an online book marketing website. A person has been motivated to visit the book’s website by word-of-mouth or marketing. However, if the website does not offer an ebook excerpt, then the experience of entering the bookstore and actually looking at the book cannot be replicated.
Science fiction writer Cory Doctorow has become well known for giving away his novels as free ebooks and thereby generating more print sales. Doctorow reports that the free ebooks let readers get interested in his stories and then they often decide to buy the print format. This happens because most people prefer to read book-length works as books.
Another example of successful book marketing with free ebooks is Baen Books, a science fiction publisher. Baen Books has included its free library at its website for years. Because many of its publications are fiction series, free ebook downloads of selected titles have helped spur sales and keep the Baen backlist going. Once again the principle has been to focus on letting a potential customer look at the book instead of fretting over piracy.
Even nonfiction titles benefit from offering an online digital portion of the book. Unlike fiction, which does not seem to be hurt by offering the entire book as a free ebook, only an excerpt of a nonfiction book would be appropriate. Giving away every bit of an author’s valuable research and experience could be harmful because nonfiction readers are often just looking for a few important facts and may not even need to read the whole book. For nonfiction, a meaty excerpt that is illustrative of the book’s quality is appropriate online as a free sample. It will allow the reader to judge the book and then perhaps purchase it. Exceptions to only providing an excerpt of a nonfiction book would be a memoir or biography. Those kinds of books are meant to be read in their entireties and a free ebook could generate interest and drive print sales.
As an online book marketer, you should not have a knee-jerk reaction against using a free ebook as a marketing strategy. At a minimum, an online excerpt is necessary and there is no evidence of harm. Most visitors to a book’s online sales page are book buyers and their reasonable desire to have a look at the product needs to be satisfied. Many software vendors have been giving out free trials for years and the software industry has not collapsed.