Distributing books for free while building marketing lists

How would you distribute a book if you needed to build a marketing list?

image of a free book-sharing neighborhood library

For many eBook publishers and authors, knowing who is reading your work is as important as making it available in the first place. But there are a few things to think about in terms of restricting content, even if it’s being given away for free. Digital Rights Management, or DRM, and other forms of locking down a book often make it more painful for readers and does more to dissuade the audience you’re looking for.  

Limiting Access

There isn’t one best way in terms of distribution because it always depends on the publisher’s situation and requirements. So here are a few that we have found work great and are the least painful for the people who really want to read your stuff:

* Unique URLs per reader – If you want to send a book out to your mailing list, you can use a tool which creates a unique URL for each person on your mailing list. Obfuscated URLs, perhaps through a hash on the person’s email address or signup date, are a good way to make it difficult for external folks to guess it. However, people can share it publicly of course which brings us to:   

* Time-delimited URLs – You can set a download link that is available for a specific amount of time, only 24 hours or only one week for example. Again they are shareable, but putting a start and end on it means that you can monitor to minimize public sharing. If that’s not restrictive enough:   

* One-time-click links – You can also set a link so that once someone hits it multiple times it expires. This means that essentially everyone gets one shot to download the content. Which is fine if they’re logged in on the device where they want to download it, but that may not always be the case. So as a backup: 

* Make the book available inside your walled garden – If your readers are people who log in to your app on a regular basis, make the book downloadable from there. If people don’t log in to your app, you can use a service:   

screenshot of scribd, which lets readers log in to read unlimited content

* Use accounts to monitor downloads – This is a pretty well-understood paradigm as it’s used by popular publishers like Lonely Planet & Safari. Users click a link, and enter their email address or create an account. That gives them access to a specific number of downloads of different versions of the book. For example, people might be able to download up to 3 each of the ePub, mobi, and PDF versions.   

screenshot of Lonely Planet download page where user can download different quantities of ebook versions.

* Email the book itself – If your book is small (generally under 20MB), you could simply include it in an email blast to your mailing list. That doesn’t stop people from forwarding it to others, but it makes access a little less complex for readers. 

Tracking Readers

All of the above solutions cover ways to ensure your current list of approved readers can access the book. But if the point of making the book available is to get people to share and grow your marketing lists, here are some good approaches for that:   

* Share with a friend – All of the above could be used with a “share with a friend” email input box. Have your current readers give you an email address of a friend who would also appreciate the book, and send it to the new person with one of the methods above.   

screenshot of Intercom's ebook page where readers can download the book by sharing emails of friends who would also like to read it.

* Use a cookie to identify new folks – Cookies aren’t always a failsafe method, but having one static link that people click would allow you to check if a cookie was set on the person clicking the link, and if they aren’t already in your list, ask them for their email to read or download the book.

* Default to asking for emails – If you’re putting up a landing page for the book anyway, you could certainly just ask for emails by default for people hitting the page. This could get a little annoying to some readers, but it may be slightly less painful than being asked to create an account. 

screenshot of Marketo's ebook page which defaults to asking for email addresses unless you are logged in.

* Share a sample – People reading the web version of the book could click a link to share the current page or chapter via twitter or facebook. We’ve seen this done with a smart URL that strips out the navigation and chrome so that people don’t click sharing links and get door slams.

screenshot of Valuable Content's page where readers can input their email address to get a free chapter.

There are unlimited ways to share and distribute your publication, so it is important to think carefully about the way that makes the most sense for your business goals. 

Photo courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/notionscapital/

If you’d like to talk about your company’s goals for publishing and reaching more readers, get in touch. We’re happy to discuss a variety of publishing and distribution options that will work for your content.

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