Tap the E-book Goldmine to Turbocharge Nonfiction Profitability
by Peter Bowerman
Let me tell you a cool story—one that underscores the promise and potential of e-books (and no, I’m not talking about a Kindle/Nook/iPad strategy). And one ideally suited to nonfiction, especially how-to titles.
In late 2009, I released my fourth self-published book, the updated edition of my 2000 release (and first book), The Well-Fed Writer (which, happily, was an award-winning Book-of-the-Month Club title). The original book was a how-to about lucrative “commercial” writing—freelancing for businesses at hourly rates of $50 to $125-plus—something I’ve been doing since 1994.
At first, I released the 2009 title only on my own Web site and spread the word only to the 7,000 subscribers to my eight-year-old newsletter geared to commercial freelancers, The Well-Fed E-PUB. As of that release date, I was in the hole for approximately $12,500 in upfront production costs for the design, editing, and printing of 6,000 copies of the book.
Within 45 days, I was in the black. And virtually every penny made since then has been profit.
Oh, and 600 percent profit margins. How? Not by selling 600-plus copies of my $20 physical book; I sold fewer than 300 copies. I did it with an average sale hovering around $40-plus, but with a fixed cost of no more than about $6 and often nothing.
Most of the profit? It came from companion e-books with zero costs for production (other than the time it took to create them, since I had already charged all up-front costs against the print-on-paper version), and zero costs for storage and shipping. So I was getting far more profit from each sale (even my Amazon and bookstore sales; stay tuned), without incurring any additional expense.
But I’m getting a little ahead of myself here. My e-book strategy has been gradually unfolding over the past 10 years, and it has four main components.
1. An e-book version of a physical book. If you have a physical book, creating a digital version is a no-brainer. It’s like found money—nothing to produce, store, or ship. And the digital version will appeal to folks in remote areas, those into instant gratification, and the tech-savvy crowd.
As of this writing, I offer my e-books only as PDFs, and I’ve gotten an amazingly small number of requests (like three, total) for alternate-device-compatible e-books. It’s coming, I’m sure, but not nearly as fast as you’d imagine.
2. E-books as purchase bonuses and standalone purchases. While I dearly love Amazon and bookstore sales, selling books on my site is best of all. I make more profit, capture buyer information, and perhaps get a signup for my e-zine or blog. So, to incentivize people to buy directly from me, I offer a free e-book bonus (in addition to free Media Mail shipping).
In the case of The Well-Fed Writer (TWFW), the bonus—called The Well-Fed Ezine Banquet—is a nearly-200-page compilation of 39 recent past issues of my Well-Fed E-PUB, popular for its real-world tips, strategies, and success stories from commercial writers around the world.
Buyers of my other book, The Well-Fed Self-Publisher (TWFSP), choose from two e-bonuses—both simply digital versions of two appendices from the book: the Time Line (a printable, chronological to-do list with check-boxes added) and The Self-Publisher’s Resource Bonus (a 16-page list of resources, with all links hot).
For purchase bonuses, think useful, high-value content peripheral to the main book (or from the book, but in a more user-friendly format). I sell all the purchase bonuses as standalone products as well—mostly to people who buy my books from Amazon or bookstores.
3. E-books as companion products. This component is by far the most exciting (and profitable) part of the strategy, and ideal for how-to books. I’ll introduce it with a question:
What sort of digital content could you package along with a book for which people would be willing to pay an additional $5, $10, $20, $30, or more?
Consider this: Even $5 pure profit would help defray some or all of your production and shipping costs on that book.
I stumbled on this idea as I was finishing up TWFSP in 2007. I had all this marketing material I’d crafted while successfully promoting my first two TWFW titles. We’re talking contracts, pitches (to reviewers, radio hosts, etc.), marketing proposals to wholesalers/bookstores, releases, follow-up notes, blurbs, promo sheets, cover letters, and a lot more.
Initially, I wanted to include all that content in my book, but that just wasn’t feasible. More important, I realized (duh) this stuff had real value as a killer marketing template for a self-publishing author, and from someone with nearly three decades of sales, marketing, copywriting, and publishing experience.
So, The Well-Fed Self-Publisher Biz-in-a-Box (BIB) e-book was born. I sell it for $19.95 with the physical book (or its e-book version), and for $29.95 by itself. Some 60 to 70 percent of people who buy the main book at my site buy the BIB as well. So, while the book alone purchased at my site is a $20 sale with a roughly $14 profit, the bundle is a $40 sale with a $34 profit; and the book’s e-book version plus the BIB is a $33 sale with a $33 profit.
The strategy was so successful that I duplicated it for the updated version of TWFW mentioned above. This time, I created two companion products: a 120-page Tool Box ($19.95 with book/$29.95 standalone), and a 16-page Time Line ($8/14.95). Together, they’re $27.95/$39.90 (I offer $5 off the after-market bundle to give it a psychologically appealing, under-$40 price).
And I added one final twist, offering the e-book version (normally $12.95) of the physical book for just $7 more if purchased with any bundle (“Can’t wait to get your hands on the actual book?”), yielding the biggest bundle of all: $54.90 ($19.95 book plus $7 e-book version plus $27.95 companion e-books).
So, with a print book, its digital version, and two companion e-books, there are a lot of possible bundles purchasers could opt for (see them all at wellfedwriter.com, then The Book), but guess which bundle was, by far, the most popular, during those first few kick-butt months? $54.90. Blew me away.
Of course, a lot of folks buy my hardcover books through Amazon and the bookstores. So, to spur sales of the higher-priced, after-market versions of all the companion e-bonus products for both books, I promote them in an appendix in both hardcover books, and happily get a decent and ongoing trickle of $30 or $40 pure-profit sales. Yee-hah.
4. Complete all-digital packages. Once I’d created all the bundles (hardcover book plus e-book variations), it made sense to offer digital-only packages as well: the e-book version of the main book plus one or more of the companion e-books in bundles priced from $19.95 to $39.90. And here’s an eye-opening stat: Over the past six months or so, approximately 75 percent of my orders have been for digital-only products or bundles.
Build It, and They Will Buy
Hockey legend Wayne Gretsky once said, “You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take.”
Creating a wide variety of different bundles taught me some important lessons. When you make something available, someone will buy it, but they can’t buy it if it’s not there (one trip to the cereal aisle of your local supermarket, bursting with 200 to 250 different varieties, will graphically remind you of the vast breadth of individual taste).
And again, take the time to create superior products people just have to have. Package crap, fluff, or filler, and you might sell a few, but bad word-of-mouth won’t sustain it. Do it right, and positive word-of-mouth—through online writing networks, blogs, chats, as well as on Amazon—will ensure ongoing sales.
Peter Bowerman is a professional copywriter, self-publishing coach, and the self-published author of the award-winning Well-Fed Writer titles (52,000 copies in print, and a full-time living for more than seven years). He chronicled his self-publishing success in the award-winning 2007 title, The Well-Fed Self-Publisher: How to Turn One Book into a Full-Time Living. For more details, visit wellfedsp.com. And check out his titling/back-cover-copy writing service at titletailor.com.