"Thin" online content, such as low-quality guest blog posts, is out this year, thanks to the various Google algorithm updates of the past few years. Experts suggest that in 2015 and beyond, it will be all about "fat" content -- such as ebooks.
"Fat content will become the focus of marketers everywhere," according to Jesse Noyes, senior director of content marketing for Kapost, who recently spoke with the Content Marketing Institute. "This includes content types like white papers, videos, ebooks, infographics ... [and] content that can be broken up and used as the fuel for multi-channel campaigns."
Ebooks in general are hot, with sales expected to grow from $2.31 billion in 2011 to $8.69 billion in 2018, according to PricewaterhouseCooper LLP. Ebooks, as part of a content marketing strategy, can give brands and entrepreneurs opportunities to deeply connect with their target audiences.
Self-published titles -- which many content marketers create and make available for free -- represent an increasingly significant piece of the ebook ecosystem. Self-published ebooks (fiction and nonfiction) comprised 32 percent of the daily unit sales of ebook bestsellers on Amazon.com in the quarter ending October 2, 2014, up five percent from 27 percent in the quarter ending Feb. 7 of the same year, according to the Author Earnings report. These numbers are noteworthy because Amazon is the largest ebook marketplace, with 64 percent share, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Ebooks offer brands many potential benefits, but are they time-consuming and expensive to produce? Is the ROI worth the effort? We asked these questions and more to a handful of experts. Here are their top tips, best practices and advice on what to expect when you add ebooks to your content marketing strategy.
Reasons to Publish an Ebook
Ebooks "are one of the best ways to generate leads for business," according to Brian Carter, consultant, speaker, and author of multiple PDF ebooks and two Amazon titles, including The Cowbell Principle: Career Advice On How To Get Your Dream Job And Make More Money ($2.99). "The only more effective strategy is webinars, which can be more problematic and expensive."
"Our company has been working in the cloud since 2008 and blogging about trends and predictions," says Margaret Walker, marketing specialist, CohesiveFT. "We wanted to revive the content and ... call ourselves 'thought leaders' in cloud but back it up in a big way, with the best of our over 300 blog posts and some industry friends' exclusive content" in the ebook, Cloud Memoirs: Views from Below, Inside, and Above (free in most formats).
Brecht Palombo, founder and president of Distressedpro.com, offers a $69 ebook designed to "educate my customers so they can decide if my software is right for them and know how to use the data inside my software should they choose to subscribe." (Distressedpro.com offers software for direct note and Real Estate Owned [REO] deals.)
Build a Personal Brand
"I always wanted to write a book sharing some of the expertise I have gained over my 25 plus years in business," says Anthony Gioeli, VP sales and marketing, KeyLemon SA, and author of International Business Expansion: A Step-by-Step Guide to Launch Your Company Into Other Countries ($9.99 on Amazon). "My main goals were to educate the market and start building up my personal brand for a future career as a speaker, consultant and teacher."
Offer Valuable Expertise to Your Target Audience
Nik Parks is co-founder of Launching Creative, which "teaches creatives how to become business savvy creative professionals." Launching Creative offers the ebook How to Price Yourself as a Creative Professional as a free downloadable PDF from its website.
"I've struggled with pricing my services [as a graphic designer] in the past and I couldn't find any helpful resources," Parks says. "After talking to a few fellow creatives, I realized this is a massive problem, yet most of us are feeling alienated. My main goal [in co-authoring the book] was to help creatives thrive in their careers. When we have concrete reasons for our rates, we can be more confident and lead the lives we want to live."
Creating Ebooks Can Take Time -- but It Doesn't Have to
The time required to create and publish an ebook depends on a variety of factors, including the topic and ebook's length.
Carter says his most recent ebook on Twitter marketing will be between 15,000 and 20,000 words, and it took him less than one month to write. However, "with editing and promotion, it will be more like two months," he says.
KeyLemon SA's Gioeli says he spent about 1,000 hours total, including "creating the content outline, researching, writing the book, rewriting and editing."
For Dina Eisenberg, creating and publishing Fiverr: The Essential Buying Guide: Where Smart Buyers Find Top Talent, Write Winning Proposal and Save Tons of Time & Money ($0.99 on Amazon) took nearly three months. "I wrote every day, with several days where the book was my main focus," she says. "Using [the writing software] Scrivener was very helpful."
Other ebook authors offload some of the heavy lifting to minimize the time it takes to create a book. "You can produce an ebook in as little as an hour and a half," says Distressedpro.com's Palombo. "The way to do this is have someone walk you through an extensive interview, record it, and transcribe it. Then you hand it off to a professional writer [or] editor." An hour-long interview should translate to roughly 10,000 words, according to Palombo, which, he says, is "a solid base" for an ebook.
Ebook Expenses and ROI
The amount of money required to create, publish and promote an ebook also varies widely; some authors spend a few hundred dollars and others spend thousands.
Carter says he usually spends between $300 and $500 to promote an ebook using Facebook ads. Otherwise, he relies on organic exposure from social media and other channels for promotion. He doesn't think ebooks are moneymakers. Instead, Carter says the real profit comes from the consulting and keynotes that result from related leads and thought-leadership positioning.
"If you want to make money it would be smarter to develop video courses, because you can never price an ebook much higher than $47," Carter says. "Many video courses, however, go for $197 to $1,997."
Naresh Vissa, founder of Copywriter Agency and author of Podcastnomics: The Book of Podcasting ... To Make You Millions ($3.99 on Amazon for the ebook, paperback or audio book versions), says he's spent about $500 per ebook on advertising and marketing, a figure that doesn't include his own time. As for ROI, Vissa says he's secured many new clients and partnership deals thanks to ebooks.
Gioeli spent approximately $7,000 on editing, proofreading, layout, cover design and publishing costs. His ebook was released on Oct. 6, so it's too early to assess the ROI. However, the ebook has already, "helped build credibility for both me and my company," he says. "I have spoken at universities and smaller conferences. When dealing with overseas customers and partners, it has helped my company form new relationships faster."
David Perry, managing partner of executive search firm Perry-Martel International Inc., says he spent little money to create his ebooks, 21 Ways To Find A Job Fast! ($0.99 on Amazon) and Guerilla Marketing for Job Hunters 3.0 (a free download), but has made in excess of $100,000 in speaking engagements and other related income.
Peter K. Worsley, author of Marketing for Professional Artists: In The Second Decade Of The 21st Century ($9.99 on Amazon and iBooks), says his book took nearly six months to write and publish, and it cost him $1,500. Worsley has sold more than 400 books and receives royalty payments of $60 to $80 per month.
Eisenberg says she spent $888 to produce her book, $800 of which went toward professional editing services. The book cover, which she says "looks as good as any traditionally published book," cost $25. Though she's not made any significant money, Eisenberg says her ebook helped her get interviews on five podcasts, which in turn increased her professional exposure.
8 Tips and Best Practices for Getting Started With Ebooks
1) When producing an ebook for the Kindle marketplace, think about the category you want it to fit, suggests Carter. "Is it popular enough? And not forbiddingly competitive? What is missing in the niche that you can write about? What keywords are people searching Amazon for, and are there books with those keywords at the beginning of their titles?" Carter says it's crucial to put the important keywords in your book's title so it will be found in searches.
2) You should not edit the book, design the cover or handle the layout yourself, unless you're an expert at one or all of these tasks, according to Palombo, who says he spent about $300 on editing and cover design. Offering clear, how-to instructions and insider information is a great ways to attract people to your book, he says.
3) Take the time to generate awareness of your book before it comes out, according to Jeremiah Talamantes, founder and managing consultant for RedTeam Security, an information security services firm. (His ebook The Social Engineer's Playbook: A Practical Guide to Pretexting costs $3.99 on Amazon.)
Talamantes used his company's blog, Facebook and Twitter accounts to garner attention. He also created an ebook landing page on Unbounce.com and kept potential readers updated through emails generated using MailChimp.
"You'll want to do a fair amount of promotion before the book is available so that your launch is successful," adds David L. Wright, publisher of personal finance website DollarBits and author of Investing For The Rest Of Us ($6.99 on Amazon).
"If you already have a large following on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, you might want to make the book available to your followers initially at a reduced rate." Wrights says. "Then, I'd offer the book for free for a short period of time on Amazon.
"The goal is to get book reviews. The more reviews and sales you have, the higher your book will rank in its category on Amazon. After your book has been available for a while, you can then use Kindle's Countdown Deal and sell the book at a reduced rate. Again, this won't bring in much revenue, but it will improve your rankings. After your Countdown Deal is over and the book's price reverts back, you will (hopefully) continue to have brisk book sales, as your book will have greater visibility amongst browsers in its category."
4) It's a good idea to tweak your ebook's price periodically. "Your revenue per book via Kindle is directly related to your list price," Wright says. "If you price your ebook on Kindle for between $2.99 and $9.99, you receive 70 percent of the sales price. If you price your book outside that range, [below $2.99 or above $9.99], you receive 35 percent of the book sales." To find the sweet spot, Wright occasionally adjusts his ebook's price.
5) Ebooks are good for marketing, "but they aren't really enough," says Dave Hecker, founder, SourceSeek, LLC and author of Outsourcing Web Projects: 6 Steps to a Smarter Business (published through SitePoint and available for $9.99 on Amazon).
"You need a whole bunch of content to gain authority and get traction. Each content channel supports and promotes the others," Hecker says. "I'm having great success with YouTube but it's hard to monetize. That said, the YouTube audience is converting nicely, and I expect the revenue from the ebook to be largely driven by blogging and videos.
6) "It's important to write for a specific audience that is experiencing the issues your book solves," according to Eisenberg. "Do a ton of research on your market before writing your book. Use tools like Kindle Spy to see where your book fits in your category on Kindle and where you can have impact. My book is a 'how to,' and I choose 'Time Management' because that's a category I can become a bestseller in."
7) Repurpose your ebook content where possible. "If you're looking to provide the most in-depth value to prospects and customers, ebooks are the best way to go," says Liz Dennison, content marketing manager for Kapost, which has produced multiple free ebooks that are available on its website. "They tackle a content theme head on and can be broken down into many derivative assets that echo this theme throughout every marketing channel, such as social media updates, blog posts and SlideShare presentations."
8) Don't be afraid to give too much away. "Entrepreneurs and freelancers often fear they will give too much [of their knowledge away] and will lose their customer base as a result," says Parks. "The counterintuitive truth is, you become an authority in your niche when you create and share quality content ... people do business with people they know, like and trust. If they get a free taste of what you have to say, and if it truly helps them, they will happily purchase your products."
"Regardless of where you are in your career, there are people who can learn from you," Parks says. "We often think, 'I'm not established, known, talented, or smart enough yet. Why would anybody listen to me?' Well, a lot of people will listen if you offer a solution to their problem."