8 tips on giving away books for free

imageWired Magazine Editor Chris Anderson‘s new book Free is about the free economy, and he’s walking the talk by making multiple versions of the book – in print, online, and audio – available for free.

Anderson’s activities were a news item in episode 466 of the FIR podcast last week when we reported Anderson’s plans, prompting FIR listener Frank Meeuwsen to offer his perspectives as a guest author on why free can be good to increase awareness about and drive sales of your product or service.

8 tips on spreading your philosophy through free books online (but pay for them in the store)

imageBy Frank Meeuwsen
Guest Author

I have been reading this discussion with great interest, since we are actually giving away free books to our audience! I am the co-founder of Lifehacking.nl, a Dutch site on working and living smarter. You could see us as the Dutch counterpart of the popular Lifehacker.com, but we try to go beyond the nifty software and geeky Mac-hacks.

So far, we have released three complete e-books for free and also made them available in print. We have seen tremendous results in spreading the word of Lifehacking.

100 Lifehacking tips: In June 2008 we released our first e-book with the 100 best blogposts from our weblog. Slightly edited for print, some new screenshots and of course a nice layout. We released the e-book on the same day it hit the stores.

Everyone who wanted to download the book, we asked them to leave their name and email address so we could contact them once we had new cool stuff to give away. About 15,000 people did.

Upgrade your Life: We translated this book from Gina Trapani (Lifehacker.com) and left out some real US examples and inserted some of our own. We gave the people who downloaded the first book a sneak preview and they could download the book for free one day before the rest of the world could. A very very large percentage did so. The book got released in print the same day as the PDF.

Zen to Done: We got the rights to Leo Babauta‘s great "shortcut into GTD" and we had this translated as well in Dutch. We applied the same tactic, gave people who downloaded before a sneak preview to pre-download the book before anyone else.

We worked together with two great publishers here in the Netherlands, SDU (100 Lifehackingtips and Zen to Done) and A.W. Puna (Upgrade your Life).

What have we learned?

There are a few learnings we have by giving away free content.

1. Free works great for paying books!

Yes, the publisher still makes money. Even though the books are free online, there are still lots of people buying them in the store. Perhaps even more, since you can get a free insight in 200-400 page book before you decide to buy it.

2. Make it easy to buy

We are still working on this (we are no e-commerce experts) but it should be as easy as 1-2-3 to buy the book once you have the free PDF. As I said, we have the email address of our downloaders, so we can contact them and perhaps give them a nice incentive to buy the book. Also, the technological improvements on the PDF-format should make it easier to buy from the PDF itself. We are still looking into this.

3. Pick your moment!

This is something we really discovered by accident. We released the first book just before the summer holiday. A moment where a lot of people pick their books to take with them on vacation. Because we released the 200 page PDF for free, a lot of people downloaded it and checked it out. They then decided to buy it in hardcopy to take in their suitcase on their holiday. Also, the book is 200 pages, you don’t print that very easy. We tried it again with Zen to Done to release it in time for the holidays. Not only a great Christmas present but also nice to give to business relations as a holiday present. We definitely see interesting possibilities in using the right moment to release your free e-book.

4. Love your audience

Above all, know who you are talking to! If your readers would like to see more of a specific subject, respond to that. On the Lifehacking Academies and with our presentations, we meet a lot of our readers and we always talk to them and see where we can help them.

5. Spread the word

Make sure you’re on Twitter or any other social network of any importance to spread the word you are releasing free e-books. Retweets are getting easier on different Twitter clients. We also take any opportunity to talk about the free downloads. Why? Because that’s the Purple Cow for us. When we say we’ve got a new book, well, take a number and stand in line. When we talk about how we are giving them away for free, people listen.

6. Work with publishers!

Don’t forget to work closely with your publisher. They are the experts on publishing, book deals, legal issues, marketing, etc. But don’t be afraid to speak up and have your own opinion. We were very fortunate to work with great people at great publishers who are open for these new ideas and are willing to take a risk with it.

7. Think networked!

Don’t think in big glitzy ad-campaigns, book signing tours and TV appearances. Think one tweet at a time, one download at a time. This stuff takes time and takes energy. Be prepared to give a lot to get a lot more in the long run!

8. What have we gained?

One of the biggest things we got from it was attention. Not only on our website through press and word of mouth, but also because we get invited to give talks and lectures on this subject (giving away stuff) and we host a paid Lifehacking Academy 4-5 times a year where we give workshops, unconferences and inspirational talks on a variety of subjects.

This attention is much more valuable in the long run because it gives us a platform to grow on, work together with more people and have the opportunity to spread our "gospel" of working smarter to people in the Dutch government, financial world and healthcare.

Our publishers have gained tremendous insight in their audience. Think about it: What would you rather have? Sell 10,000 books but you don’t know who they are, if they are interested (on an individual level) in more titles from you catalogue? Or have 10,000 names and addresses for you to start a conversation with about your future books, perhaps sell more titles on a personal level and find new information on your market?

The future

We are currently negotiating deals together with some publishers on releasing more free e-books. I can’t give you any names yet but it sure looks promising. We are also vamping up our own online store where you can download the books but also buy them immediately.

We are also looking into the e-reader market. In The Netherlands we don’t have the Kindle yet, but there are some other e-readers who look promising.

Think about giving away e-books to your readers but gaining a two-way conversation channel while they are reading the book!

imageFrank Meeuwsen is a self-proclaimed digital bohemian, living in Utrecht, The Netherlands. He has an extensive background in the social media world, starting his first weblog in 2000, being the first with a Dutch corporate weblog in 2002, organising the first business blog meetings and "regular" weblog meetings between 2002 and 2004 and he played a big role in the rise of the Dutch weblog awards, Dutch Bloggies.

Right now, Frank is editor in chief of Lifehacking.nl, a Dutch weblog on working smarter and a platform for much more online and offline activities. Frank is also a digital inspirator and strategist on new online developments with his own business The Incredible Adventure starts here…

He’s a big Twitter fan and can’t wait until the day his young daughter can read and write so she can take over her own weblog he is maintaining now!

FIR co-host Neville Hobson first met Frank in 2005 when Neville lived in Amsterdam.

(Cross-posted from NevilleHobson.com)

Posted by neville on 07/22 at 10:10 AM

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