Is the Free eBook Giveaway Dead?

59 Intelligent Opinions

free eBook giveaway

You know the drill. You create a free eBook and then you give it away for free to get more email subscribers.

It’s a tried and tested method that has worked wonders for years.

But lately people have been saying the method is dead in the water. They reckon it’s lost it’s effectiveness because people are clued in to the method.

Well, I’d like to say a few things about that. I’d be interested to see what you think about the matter too.

My experience with the “eBook for email address” method

For years now I’ve been offering a free eBook to readers in exchange for an email sign up. And it’s worked pretty well. My sign up rates are good and the people who sign up don’t just unsubscribe after they’ve read the free offering.

And the funny thing is that it is working just as well now as it was six or seven years ago.

Maybe even better.

And I’m not the only one. Guys like Pat Flynn and John Chow are using this method to great effect.


A screenshot from my Aweber stats showing a high eBook sign up rate.

Take a look at the screen grab above and you will see that my Free eBook page is converting at just above 10%. Anyone interested in sign up stats will know that that is pretty good.

My experiences with the free eBook giveaway and the experiences of those guys I look up to continue to demonstrate that this method is no yet dead.

Reasons the eBook giveaway is not dead or dying

Now, just because it is working for me does not mean that it will work for everyone. That being said, here is why I think the free eBook is still alive and well.

1. Most readers are newcomers
One thing you need to be aware of is that most of the people who come to your site are new to the blogging world. Whatever your blog is about, you can be pretty certain that most of your readers are beginners.

You see, if you write a good quality blog you will be solving a lot of problems and answering a lot of questions.

And people search for these answers in Google and then arrive at your site to see what you have to say.

Sure, you will get some experts in there but even they are looking for something. If your eBook is high quality and if your traffic comes from a funnel of some kind you will enjoy a lot of new sign ups.

2. Technology is re-popularizing eBooks
A few years ago everyone was talking about the fact that eBooks were on their way out.

And then came the Kindle.

And then came the iPad.

And then came iBooks and Instapaper and all those other amazing things that let us read PDFs on our phone.

Technology is making eBooks popular again. I would hazard a guess that they are more popular than ever because people now read them on their phones and tablets as well as their computers and laptops. Accessibility is way up.

3. People are more open to giving away their email address
When I go over to see my mother I am always surprised at how unwilling her new husband is to do anything online.

Paying bills, shopping, signing up to email lists… it’s all out of the question.

Luckily most people aren’t like that.

Now that the we are spending so much time online (on our phones, etc.) we find that we are more open to sharing email addresses and other potentially private information with blogs, websites and applications. Read the Terms and Conditions of most apps and you’ll notice that they access private data even when you’re not using the thing!

You have to make sure YOUR eBook is not dead

Sometimes when I hear sweeping statements like “free eBooks are dead” I wonder whether the person has any reliable data for such a statement or whether it is just their personal eBook that is not performing all that well.

The free eBook forumla is alive and well but you need to make sure you are taking the right steps to ensure its working well for you and your blog.

  • How niche-specific is it?
    I am always talking about this but it is so important. You need to make sure that your free giveaway is as tightly related to your niche as possible. If it is even slightly off topic or general you just won’t get the interest.
  • Are you pre-selling it?
    Last year I wrote a post on Problogger and one on Copyblogger about how you need to create a “sales funnel” for your eBook where you use guest posts to prime people for your free giveaway. Since then I’ve seen a lot more people doing it and have had a lot of feedback about how well it works.
  • Are you promoting it properly on your blog?
    If you have a look at 10 blogs I bet that 9 of them have horrible opt-in form areas. The part of the sidebar that encouraged people to sign up, the dedicated landing page that promotes the idea… a lot of them are really underwhelming. You need to make sure you have a nice clean opt-in area with a properly designed form or eBook graphic.
  • Are you split testing your opt-in forms?
    Split testing is where you run two versions of the same ad at the same time and see which one works the best. Of course, they don’t actually run at the same time with both ads on the page at once – you just input the same code and the software will show 50% of people the first ad and 50% of people the second ad. You can do this really easily with Aweber.

Any time you are promoting a product, whether its free or paid, you need to be constantly working on the delivery and the offering itself. Things can always be improved.

Do you think the free eBook method is dead?

I’d really like to open up the comments now and hear what you think about whether this method is dead or not. Is it working for you? Do you think it is less effective than a few years ago? Please leave a comment and let me know.

Photo: © Intoit

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59 Comments... Leave yours.

  • Scott Kindred | SafeHouse Web April 10, 2012 at 11:11 pm

    I like the concept that there are still many newcomers. And that the old-timers are not too jaded. The eBook is a great way to make an authority statement, get really good SEO juice – and grow the email list, too.

    A friend of mine out in Virginia just released one that covers SEO and proper considerations for HTML coding. Dead horse, you say? Me too, but in the case of his band new book, it does speak more clearly and intelligently than most of the others in its genre. Plus, by the way it is crafted and written, it is obvious that it wasn’t just another cut-and-paste job.

    1. Scott Kindred | SafeHouse Web April 10, 2012 at 11:14 pm

      p.s. BT- I may be way, way off on this one, but your choice of imagery conjures the feeling of [Christopher Reeve] Superman intently studying-up on ol’ Lex Luther.

      Keeping an eye on the enemy ;)

      1. the Blog Tyrant April 11, 2012 at 4:06 am

        Man I’ve been getting a bit slack with these lately…

        Gotta get my head back in the game I reckon.

  • Ralph | Niche Websites April 10, 2012 at 11:18 pm

    I think its a great idea and people love to get a “free” thing. In this case an eBook in the topic they are interested about.

    I have my optin form there but haven’t got an eBook (yet).
    One thing I thought of doing was to first establish myself a bit more by doing a case study on setting up a niche website (Released update 1 today).

    It also determines how you measure success. I mean do you measure the download or the actual read? For a lot of marketeers the eBook is a great way to earn some money as it has affiliate links in there…

    1. the Blog Tyrant April 11, 2012 at 4:06 am

      I think the measure of success is really two-fold: how many people download it and then how many people share it.

  • Webly April 10, 2012 at 11:50 pm

    I admit I’m spittle skeptical about the FREE ebook but considering that I would like to increase my subscribers, I have nothing to lose if I try it.

    1. the Blog Tyrant April 11, 2012 at 4:07 am

      Let us know how you go.

  • Sharon Fiberesima April 11, 2012 at 12:06 am

    Well, I don’t think the Free eBook is dead or dying BUT I believe there might be reasons for people to think that way. It works in 2 ways really;

    1. For those who are mostly concerned with selling to their list, giving away a free eBook might be counterproductive because people who go after free stuff seldom buy. However, this is a generalization and I’m sure there are exceptions.

    2. If you are offering sub-standard stuff, then definitely YOUR eBook is either dead or dying.

    I believe when it comes to offering the free eBook (or free stuff) you need to give people a lot of value so that they feel they really should have paid for what they’re getting.

    1. the Blog Tyrant April 11, 2012 at 4:08 am

      I think your first point is interesting: how interested are those people in becoming long term fans. I guess that’s why the eBook needs to be high quality.

      1. Sharon Fiberesima April 11, 2012 at 7:27 am

        True. To use an IM term, if you ‘over-deliver’ that is, give way more value than your readers are expecting, you will get some very loyal subscribers who will be willing to buy if you’re the one doing the recommending.

        I heard somewhere that you should give away your very best stuff. And I agree.

  • Cristina Ansbjerg April 11, 2012 at 2:04 am

    I can’t say whether is dead or not. But when something gets so popular, inevitably the overall quality goes down.
    I mean, at this point there are so many not worthy e-books being given away, I wouldn’t be surprised if people didn’t want ebooks anymore.

    1. the Blog Tyrant April 11, 2012 at 4:09 am

      Interesting point Cristina. But I wonder if that’s like saying that because there are so many bad books out there people won’t want books anymore…?

      1. Cristina Ansbjerg April 11, 2012 at 4:14 am

        LOL, I didn’t mean to sound so radical.
        I meant, when you visit 3 or 4 blogs, you sign up, get the free ebook and most of the content in them is mediocre you lose faith. It happened to me when I was starting.

        1. the Blog Tyrant April 11, 2012 at 4:24 am

          Yeah, I absolutely know the feeling.

  • Zimbrul April 11, 2012 at 2:41 am

    I said before that the method of eBook is outdated but I was thinking (again) from my perspective. In fact it isn’t. But you won’t sign up for many eBooks once you’ve got few ;) or at least you won’t sign up for every eBook as it’s likely to have one already on the same subject.
    I don’t sign up just for the eBook. Honestly, I know if I want to hear of the author again from the first three sentences of the first article I read on a new blog. The eBook doesn’t make me put down my email address unless I like what I read and I envisage some other great readings (and advice) from that blog. The eBook is the cherry on top…but this is me, an educated reader.
    If I see “5 ways to improve your writing skills” I know it’s probably trying to oversell something as we all know there is just one, THE SKILL that makes the difference between average bloggers and the ones that engage, convert and earn money.
    eBooks are good for the beginners but I think for someone advanced a movie with Angelia Jolie woud be more appropriate :)).

    1. the Blog Tyrant April 11, 2012 at 4:10 am

      That last part confused me…. lol

  • liz@lifedreaming April 11, 2012 at 3:33 am

    I think it’s all about what action researchers call triangulated methods – there’s no one method that will give you all the answers or results.

    And in action research there’s always the depth and breadth query – what will give deep level information and/or a breadth of information.

    In blogging and online biz terms that means:

    * use a number of key ways to attract and love your customers/readers – free ebooks; great posts; interesting links and references; great design; links to social media; go chat with others online; build great value services/products

    * depth and breadth – in my Life Dreaming biz we have posts and LD Morsels [free short activity sheets] and very soon – an 8 module online LD Expedition; and in May there’s an offline LD Luxury Voyage in Dublin for 7 women.

    There’s something for my fab women at a range of price points and with varying levels of commitment needed.

    We had a free workbook up for the last year and have taken it down as we’ll be launching the Expedition soon. So we’ve replaced them with a bundle of the LD Morsels – still good quality and great design.

    The ebook has a place and I agree with a lot of the comments above – it’s still all about quality and relevance and respecting your audience.

    Hope your weeks going well BT

    Liz

    1. the Blog Tyrant April 11, 2012 at 4:11 am

      Hey Liz.

      Week is going well, my girlfriend said yes to the ring I gave her!

      Great comment as always!

      1. Cristina Ansbjerg April 11, 2012 at 4:16 am

        Are you engaged, BT?

        1. the Blog Tyrant April 11, 2012 at 4:23 am

          Yep! To this gorgeous girl: http://instagr.am/p/I0-hpvNxZ7/

          1. liz@lifedreaming April 11, 2012 at 4:24 am

            Go BT
            Many congrats to you both and great big wishes for a very happy adventurous life together.

            That’s lovely news mate.

            xxLiz

          2. Cristina Ansbjerg April 11, 2012 at 4:25 am

            Congrats!!
            I can’t believe I’ve seen your fiancee’s face before yours :d

          3. the Blog Tyrant April 11, 2012 at 4:28 am

            Ha ha. Thanks guys.

            I’ll be posting my photo soon. Promise.

          4. Dorothy Ray April 11, 2012 at 10:13 am

            She is, indeed. Congratulations. She’s a lucky girl.

          5. Scott Kindred | SafeHouse Web April 11, 2012 at 11:21 am

            Right on! Big congrats.

  • Pat April 11, 2012 at 3:35 am

    Not dead.

    Bad eBooks and giveaways are dead.

    But the idea of the lead magnet – definitely not dead.

    I think now, more than ever, you can kill it with this method as long as you have something to give away that is SO good and SO amazing that your subscribers are telling other people via social media and word of mouth to subscribe to the list to get access to it. That’s the approach you have to take in order to really make it work.

    1. the Blog Tyrant April 11, 2012 at 4:12 am

      Yeah I reckon you are right bro. It’s all about that super highly quality offering. Yours is ridiculous!

      Thanks for stopping by!

  • Ruan | Reast Hosting April 11, 2012 at 3:44 am

    Personally I think the free giveaway of eBooks are far from dead. Although in my opinion people have less and less time to read larger publications these days and would much rather read smaller reports if you will, giving away an eBook as encouragement to have you email them future content has and still works.

    I agree that having these sign-up forms in the right places is definitely the most important determining factor in whether they’ll take the few secs to fill it out or not.

    I once read an article not too long ago that explained that when a visitor lands on your home page, without having to scroll down you should see a sign-up form in the screen and apart from your logo/headline it should almost be the most eye-catching thing visible in the screen frame at that time. I found that to work quite well…

    Great post BT :)

    1. the Blog Tyrant April 11, 2012 at 4:14 am

      Hi Ruan.

      Yeah those super big opt-in forms like on Social Triggers are really popular at the moment. I have to confess I’m not a huge fan because it takes a lot of the focus off of your content by pushing it below the fold.

      But, I haven’t tested it yet so I can’t say for sure.

      1. Jamie Swanson April 11, 2012 at 11:33 am

        True, but if your welcome email has both the free ebook plus links to some of your best content, they end up on your list AND they get the content right there in front of them as well (and your best content at that). I think it’s brilliant.

        1. the Blog Tyrant April 11, 2012 at 8:24 pm

          True. Good point Jamie.

  • Johanna April 11, 2012 at 5:09 am

    Sites offering great content don’t need free eBooks, but it still helps tip the scales in favour of sign-ups, I reckon. What’s worrying is the proliferation of poor quality eBooks which are then followed up with a bombardment of updates or newsletters with little value. Perhaps the free eBook concept is on the wane because people really don’t want to sign up and then have their inbox jam packed with only half useful information that they might not have time to get round to reading on a regular basis? At the risk of sounding sycophantic, this doesn’t apply to Blog Tyrant’s content or eBook – the eBook is really helpful and email updates are always worth taking the time to open and read. I think free eBooks are still effective but it comes down to your comment BT about being niche specific and feeding a hungry pool of fish with the things they (continually) want to consume. I for one have a lot to learn :)

    1. the Blog Tyrant April 11, 2012 at 8:25 pm

      I agree with that totally. You don’t need one but it can be a good idea to help things along.

      Thanks for the kind words as well!

  • Jon Buscall April 11, 2012 at 9:37 am

    Hmm, I’m not so sure this is the key issue here. It’s more about whether the percentage of sign-ups actually convert to sales / customers afterwards.

    After all, the number of ebook / email sign-ups might decrease but what about actual conversions in terms of business ?

    Do the few that sign-up purchase at the same rate ? Or is it higher or lower ?

    To see if ebooks are truly dying or not you’d need to see the percentage of actual conversions in comparison and the overall figure gained.

    1. Jamie Swanson April 11, 2012 at 11:32 am

      I saw sales dramatically increase for an affilate product I promote that I mentioned in my ebook because it was relevant (not just to make money) so it’s definitely converted to sales for me. That being said, I’ve only been offering it 5 weeks, so it could be a fluke as well. See my other comment below for more info about what I did. ;)

    2. the Blog Tyrant April 11, 2012 at 8:27 pm

      Interesting point Jon but I guess the issue I was talking about is the fact that some people are saying eBooks are dead as a “lead magnet” or method of capturing new subscribers. What you are proposing is a whole new (and more interesting) kettle of fish I reckon.

  • Tyler April 11, 2012 at 11:28 am

    I would rather stick a spoon in my eye than get a Aweber email trying to sell me something every day.

    I guess I know the tricks and maybe I’m not the target because there is nothing anyone can sell me via email. If I want something I’ll go find it myself.

    If I want information, I’ll find it myself. Email is a tool for work and emails not work related are a distraction.

    Same with ebooks %90 are total garbage. I’m not sure when 5000 words became a “book”.

    With all that said, email lists are still the best way to hock your products and services online. There is no debating that. I would never sign up for one myself because I know better and I’m sure the number of savvy people is growing slightly, but only slightly.

    Still most people are dumb and don’t mind being sold to.

    1. the Blog Tyrant April 11, 2012 at 8:27 pm

      Tyler you sound so jaded! Ha ha.

  • Jamie Swanson April 11, 2012 at 11:30 am

    So, I bucked the “Free eBook” trend for my first year in business. I wanted only people who REALLY wanted to be on my list to sign up and really engage. I got 1300 subscribers in my first year, and I have crazy open rates (around 90%) so while my list was smaller, I felt like it was worth having a smaller but very engaged list.

    But after talking to a few other bloggers in my niche with 60% open rates on much larger numbers, I figured 60% of a few thousand was still much larger in number than 90% of 1300.

    So I did a survey to find out my audience’s main pain point (in my case, getting enough clients).

    I then wrote a free ebook that addressed this pain point called “5 Common Mistakes That Lose You Business (and How To Attract Your Ideal Client Like Crazy). I made a mini sales page for it (very, VERY short, but I used the exact words that I found in surveys to talk about the pain points and how this would help with that). I launched this 5 weeks ago or so.

    I increased my list from 1300 to almost 2600 since launching it, and my open rate has not suffered. The people who really only want the ebook just sign up and then unsubscribe right away (a very small number, but a few here and there). I’ve made a point to make sure that the welcome email they get with the free download link also links to some of the best content on my site so they’re getting added value right away.

    I’ve also set this up as a product that I sell for $29 on the same page as the email sign-up so that I could create an affiliate link to the ebook for my affiliates and it creates value in the mind of people viewing the page. No one buys it – why would they with the free option? – but my affiliates can promote a free resource on their site, get their audience on my list and let ME sell to them and collect commissions over the next 6 months from anything their readers buy (my affiliate tracking cookie lasts 6 months). So my affiliates love it and have been promoting it as well.

    I also mentioned a relevant affiliate ebook that I get a commission from in the book, and that has garnered me extra sales as well (although that wasn’t the main reason for doing it, just a nice by-product). The mini sales page is currently converting at 42% so it’s a very effective way to get people on my list, although I’m expecting that to decline slightly over time as people stop promoting it as much (since I just “launched” it, so to speak).

    So I’ve effectively doubled my list, I’ve given value to my affiliates, made extra money, and still have an incredibly responsive list.

    The only thing I regret is not doing this sooner. If you do it right, you’re set to really get great results.

    Is it dead? Absolutely not. Go rock it, but make sure it’s relevant to your audience (do a survey to find out!) and that you really give amazing content (both in the ebook and in the welcome email you send them).

    1. the Blog Tyrant April 11, 2012 at 8:29 pm

      Brilliant comment Jamie. Seems as though you are really thinking about things.

      By the way, your open rate is extraordinary!

      1. Jamie Swanson April 11, 2012 at 9:19 pm

        Thanks BT. I learn from the best, and I consider you one of them even if I don’t know who you are. [Yet.] ;)

        1. the Blog Tyrant April 11, 2012 at 9:29 pm

          I’m far from the best. But thanks anyway.

      2. Jamie Swanson April 11, 2012 at 9:39 pm

        In fact, I’m pretty sure my engagement is so high because I respond to every comment as well. ;) Guess who I got that tip from?

        1. the Blog Tyrant April 11, 2012 at 9:43 pm

          ME!

          1. Jamie Swanson April 11, 2012 at 9:47 pm

            Ding ding ding! We HAVE a winner! ;)

  • Shayna April 12, 2012 at 2:32 pm

    Great post and I love the questions for self-evaluation!

    The free e-book seems to be working for me – 700 newsletter sign-ups in 3 months so far (yes, my blog is still an infant ;-) ). I don’t have a dedicated page to pre-sell it though – do you think I need one if I already have a pretty prominent sidebar form?

    Now I need to start experimenting with A/B testing…

    1. the Blog Tyrant April 13, 2012 at 3:45 am

      That’s great work! Keep it up Shayna.

  • Geraldine April 19, 2012 at 6:17 am

    I don’t think free ebook giveaway is dead. Some people feel that the end is near; so they attach this apocalyptic vision to every event they could think of. If your ebook is awesome, then I would be willing to sign up for your list.

    1. the Blog Tyrant April 19, 2012 at 8:50 am

      Agreed. Thanks Geraldine.

  • Melanie Thomassian April 21, 2012 at 11:05 am

    There’s no way it’s dead.

    Those who say so, probably have something else to sell you on, or are trying to differentiate themselves to their audience for the sake of it.

    However, I must say, that once you get visitors onto a landing page, you should be converting at least 30% imo.

    A couple of suggestions for yours (aside from rewriting the copy). I’d put a small optin box at the top right in the midst of the copy, and remove the optin in the sidebar. Instead, fill the sidebar with testimonials, and in you’re copy, tell people to read the testimonials.

    For an example, see my own healthy eating tips for ideas.

    I’d love to see the results if you did this.

    1. the Blog Tyrant April 21, 2012 at 8:42 pm

      30%! Wow. That’s some good converting. Never seen a page convert that high.

      1. Melanie Thomassian April 22, 2012 at 9:16 pm

        It’s a free book. Of course you can get 30% on a landing page. With testimonials and semi-decent copy, 30% is very doable.

        I’m not a copywriter, but I’ve had squeeze pages with over 40%.

        Anyway, love your content. Some great ideas. Could you go into why you dropped the popup?

        1. the Blog Tyrant April 22, 2012 at 9:57 pm

          The pop up is back but I’ll be talking more about that soon in a post in terms of overall conversions and usefulness.

          1. Melanie Thomassian April 23, 2012 at 3:40 pm

            I’d love to read that.

            Make sure to include details, e.g. copy, time it appears, how often it appears, etc.

            P.S. Sharing comment details with my husband is a bad idea. I have a beard in my last comment, lol

      2. Jamie Swanson April 30, 2012 at 7:10 pm

        My free ebook page is converting 49.5% with just over 4500 pageviews, and this went up AFTER sending out the free book to all my current subscribers. So it’s totally possible.

  • Dan Sumner April 22, 2012 at 3:20 am

    Hey BT,

    I hope the free eBook isn’t dead I have 3 on the go and working on a second. I guess I just like writing.

    I think one of the main contributors to free eBooks getting a bit of bad press was the ad swap. Ad swap material is generally made of up of Sh*t eBooks pieced together and put up on ad swap forums for people to share and easily build lists (you know how it works).

    People seem to lose a little faith in the freebie and even the free item lost it’s value.

    I totally agree with the changes in technology and people realizing that giving and email address away isn’t all that bad anymore, is making things much better.

    If anyone os going to create a free eBook create a good one and it will be shared and complimented on.

    Thanks for sharing BT

    Dan

    1. the Blog Tyrant April 22, 2012 at 10:00 pm

      Totally agree Dan. Nice work on all the writing!

  • Dinesh May 3, 2012 at 11:24 am

    One simple tip for you …. work on your comment box.

  • Brad Dalton May 7, 2012 at 11:50 am

    Giving away an eBook works extremely well for me. Its far more effective than asking for rss subscribers unless you know the tips and tricks on on this.

    I’ve read some excellent posts on this blog on how to convert readers which leave comments to subscribers so both can work very well if you know what to do.

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