'Giving It Away': When Free E-books Work and When They Don't
Free content also is presented in a way that site visitors must click through multiple pages while reading, which Balis said "allows us to monetize other areas of content and create opportunities for advertising."
The lesson learned from this example, said Balis, "Is that despite offering free content in complete, but not identical form, Frommer's is the No. 1 travel site in its category and maintains its market share in travel books."
Cliffs Notes, which generally sell for $5.99 in print form, he said, are still a very successful print program for Wiley. On CliffsNotes.com, "any student can read a book in complete digital form," he notes. But, says Balls, "we find we sell the downloadable [PDF] form." In fact, 25 percent of those who view the free content convert to paid readers, paying $5.99 for a downloadable PDF. The key, suggests Balis, is the portability of the downloadable PDFs; students want something they can "take with them," he said. The bulk of orders are placed late at night when students "can't wait for the print version."
Overall, Wiley has "archived digitally the first chapter of every book, online only, non-downloadable," and a 15-page preview is offered on Wiley.com. The company also has explored (but not yet participated in) content-sharing sites such as Scribd, but said Balis, "We are cautious about our content. We want to take advantage of legitimate viral aspects, but these sites are also aiding in pirated distrubution of content."
Balis noted one example where offering content for free did not work so well. The author of "The Truth About Cheating" (M. Gary Neuman) wanted to offer his book for free on the Amazon Kindle for one week coinciding with his appearance on "The Oprah Winfrey Show."
"The book did well, but not as well as it should [have]," said Balis. "There's no question that one week [of] free download cannibalized sales." The one-week period was just too long, he noted.