Is The Best Way To Sell More Books By Giving Them Away For Free?

What's the best way to get someone to read your book?
What’s the best way to get someone to read your book?

Image Credit: CollegeDegrees360

Let’s face it: selling books is tough work. With all of the other distractions that customers have these days, trying to convince them to buy a book, let alone the book that you are trying to sell, can be very difficult to do. In the world of electronic books, product managers are having to modify their product development definition and try out some new ideas in order to see if they can capture more customers.

The Art Of Giving Books Away For Free

If you are a product manager who is responsible for driving sales for a given author, then you’d really like people to read one of the books that your author has written. If you can get them to do that, then with a little luck in the future you should be able to get them to purchase additional titles that your author has written. Sounds like a good goal to add to a product manager resume, but how can you make this happen?

In the world of books new websites such as have become the new distribution channels for the books that product managers are responsible for. The way that this works is that every day BookBub sends out more than 7 million emails to their list of registered book readers. They tell them about books that they should check out which are priced from US0.99 to free. In order to make this work, BookBub has to have access to the books that people are going to want to read. It turns out that they do because both the big publishing houses and the independent publishers are both participating in this program and providing the titles that BookBub is offering.

The reason that the book product managers are willing to allow their books to be sold for either so little or in many cases nothing at all is because they need the word to get out about their books. If they can entice readers with a bargain, then they hope that they can get them hooked on a new author and they’ll end up buying more ebooks at full price between US$12.99 and US$14.99. So far all of the companies that have run a promotion through BookBub report that they have been profitable despite the deep discounts that they have had to offer. In fact, the success of these promotions has caused a number of competitors to BookBub to show up now.

The Challenges That Come With Free Books

This sounds like the best of both worlds doesn’t it – product managers get a new channel to reach potential customers and BookBub gets to grow its mailing list. However, the product managers have some concerns about this program. The folks at BookBub share the concerns of the product managers. They worry about what the long-term implications are of creating a generation of book buyers who are accustomed to paying very little for an ebook. What will this do to the value of BookBub’s catalog?

Ebook sales have become stagnant. Last year, ebook sales fell 11%. Book publisher product managers see their relationship with services like BookBub as being a form of promotion. This is critical to the book publishing industry which has traditionally been very limited in how much they were willing to spend to promote a book. BookBub makes its money by linking its customers who want to buy a book to sellers such as Amazon. They then get a referral fee of 5%-10% of the book’s retail price. They also collect a fee from the publisher or self-published authors.

The biggest challenge that product managers are facing is that their customers could become used to paying lower prices for books. This could drive them to only purchase books when the books are on sale. The unanswered question is if consumers who are dedicated to reading bargain books will be willing to spend in order to buy full priced titles. Publishers see offering discounted prices as a way to pull potential readers away from Facebook and other online digital distractions. Ultimately, the book product managers want visibility for their books and they are willing to discount the books in order to get it. The long-term impact of this strategy will have to be seen.

What All Of This Means For You

Book product managers are dealing will issues are a part of every product manager’s product manager job description. If we want to move more of our product, one simple way to make this happen is to discount the product. Book product managers have a slightly different situation where they may have many books by the same author.

In this case, if the book product managers can use discounting to get readers hooked on this author, then they stand a good chance of being able to get the readers to purchase more books by the same author at full retail price. The challenge that they are dealing with is that if they are not careful, they may create an entire generation of readers who are always looking for a book to be discounted before they will buy it.

I can understand the challenge that book product managers are facing. Not only are their book titles competing with other books, but their customers also have a lot of other things that could occupy their reading time. In order to get their customer’s attention, they need to make it easy for them to get a copy of their book. The trick will be making sure that they enjoy the reading experience so much that they decide that they must have the next book by the author no matter what its price is!

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: Can you think of anything else that book product managers could do to sell more ebooks besides lowering their price?

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