eBook Publishing – Do I Give My eBook Away for Free or Charge Money?

by Robb Sutton

In today’s online arena, eBooks are a fantastic way to build lists, generate revenue and spread your words to a large audience. eBooks can gain you reputation in a niche and bring credibility to your site in ways you never though possible while at the same time generating affiliate and direct revenue for your business. By publishing eBooks on your blog or website, you are participating in the most popular form of making money online outside of pure affiliate marketing. When you look into publishing your first or 12th eBook on your website or blog, you have to look into the options and see what kind of eBook publishing method is going to best suit your needs and end goal. When you look closely at popular eBooks, online eBook publishing falls into two basic categories.

  1. Free eBooks for performing an action
  2. Purchased eBooks

Unfortunately, for many eBook publishers, the decision on free or paid for their latest eBook is not an easy decision. Before we jump into what you should do with your eBook as you prepare to publish it to the eagerly awaiting online world, lets take a look at the benefits and drawbacks of each eBook publishing method. The following article weighs the benefits and drawbacks of paid vs. free eBook publishing. As I continue to dive into eBook subject matter, we will cover eBook content and subject matter in a later article. For the purposes of this article, assume great content on a particular subject matter.

Free eBooks for Performing an Action

In today’s online world, blog readers and search engine visitors have grown very accustomed to getting everything for free. First, I want to dispel the myth…nothing is free. While your reader did not shell out any cash to pick up this form of eBook, the end goal is revenue generation and list building. By giving away a free eBook on your site if your visitor signs up for your newsletter, you are putting off a small amount of money up front with the hope that the reader will perform another call to action in the future that generates revenue for your blog. In most cases, your free eBook also contains revenue generating links that further increases your bottom line. The term “free” is coined because no money changes hands at the time of download.

Benefits of free eBook publishing…

  • Drastically more downloads than paid eBooks.
  • Does not have to be as unique or in depth as a paid eBook, but if you want it to really be successful…the more in depth and unique…the better.
  • Generates email lists through newsletter subscription services like Aweber for further affiliate and direct sales opportunities.

Drawbacks of free eBook publishing…

  • No direct money through the sale. Reader could never generate revenue for your blog.
  • Highly specialized techniques can reach the wrong hands and diminish you brand name (more on this later).

When you look at your eBook and contemplate whether or not you need to give it away for free or charge money, you need to look at other sites and blogs in your niche. Are they giving away for free what you want to charge for? Are there other, more in depth and popular free versions out there already? As you consider the competition, you are going to have to follow their lead in some ways.

Let’s take a look at the Make Money Online niche. There are hundreds (maybe thousands) of free eBooks on the net all promising to make you an online millionaire if you just follow the steps they did. Now…many of these eBook publishers have not made one dime online, but there are several highly successful online marketers that are giving away their information for free. If you expect to jump into this market with a paid eBook, you are going to watch the sales drop off the map if you sell even one. Since there is so much competition that is already free, you are going to have to follow suit unless you are immensely successful (and everyone knows it) or you are coming to the market with a completely unique idea.

Free eBooks are one of the best ways to grow your presence online. They increase your subscriber count and make you money down the long haul even if you don’t see the direct result right away. I highly recommend that everyone have at least one free eBook publication for that reason.

Paid eBooks- Publishing eBooks for Money

As you look around online, you will see numerous, highly successful paid eBooks that are published on blogs just like robbsutton.com. These eBooks have generated revenue for blogs and websites through the direct sale of online content. Successful eBooks with timeless information can bring in revenue for long periods of time with minimal work after the eBook is complete and published.

Benefits of paid eBook publishing…

  • Instant money generated from the sale.
  • Still builds credibility and lists for eBook publisher (just smaller numbers than free).
  • Your information is more protected by the money qualifier before download (relates to specialized techniques comment above).

Drawbacks of paid eBook publishing…

  • Smaller amount of downloads over free for obvious reasons.
  • Affiliate marketing is a great way to spread the news, but you have to give up profit to achieve true success.
  • Needs to be very in depth and sometimes highly unique in the marketplace to be successful.

Typically, paid eBooks are unique in the marketplace. Their content is not easily found anyone else’s blog for free and it is relevant to a large audience. Either someone else has not filled that gap in the industry, or you have found online success through a new resource that is unique and can be replicated through your instruction. When a reader pays and downloads a paid eBook, they need to feel like they received something of real value that will add value to whatever subject you are writing about. There are numerous, highly successful paid eBooks on blogging, health and wellness, money and other subjects that affect us in our daily lives. If you already have a strong name in the industry, a paid eBook can bring you another huge source of revenue that was previously untapped.

To better illustrate the thought process that goes into the paid eBook decision, I will outline why I went with the paid option on Ramped Reviews on robbsutton.com. In Ramped Reviews, you will find step by step instructions on how to start a review blog, deal with companies as you seek and receive free product to review on your blog and how to treat your blog like a company instead of a hobby that you just do on the side. The following list is why I went with a paid eBook.

  • Ramped Reviews is unique to the industry, so the competition is extremely low.
  • I have had published success on large blogs that gives credibility to the information.
  • Not everyone should have this information (protecting techniques comments above). I did not want bloggers that were not serious about review blogging using this information to bug companies online and then use my name to say why they did it. If you are not willing to shell out the $20.00 it takes to buy the eBook, then you are not serious enough to contact companies for free product.
  • The return on investment is HUGE. I have received over $70k in free product to review…so 20 bones is nothing in comparison.

As you can see…there are several different factors that I considered before deciding to publish a paid eBook. Most importantly, I did not want this highly successful information to get in the hands of bloggers that are not absolutely serious about writing reviews or running their blog as a business. I like to think of the $20.00 as a fee of entry into the world of review blogging.

Do I publish a free or paid eBook on my blog?

As you can see by the lists above, there are many different considerations you have to ponder in your quest to publish an eBook on your blog. In most cases, if there is a large amount of free competition in your market, you need to release a free eBook to help grow your list and your blog. If you are in a market with low competition and you have unique information that will really help other readers reach their goals, a paid eBook may be your ticket to another revenue source on your blog.

One thing is for certain, there is no one right way to publish an eBook and you need to weigh your individual needs against the positives and negatives of each method. I do recommend that you at least giveaway one eBook (or something else valuable to your readers) for free to continue list building and blog promotion. After that…it is up to you on paid or free.

Of course, all of this information assumes that you have quality content backing up your decision…

Free image by tonx

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Mike July 29, 2009 - 6:43 am

I used a free eBook to “bribe” people into signing up for my mailing list.

I’m also in the early stages of working on a premium eBook, just don’t know exactly what the direction is going to be.

Rachael March 20, 2012 - 4:27 am

This was a helpful article, but I’m still feeling torn. Perhaps it will make more sense in the future.

When did you know the time was right to write an ebook?


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