Reviving Advertisement-Supported eBooks

Ever since ebooks began growing in popularity, companies selling ebooks have come and gone. I find it difficult to keep track of the many companies providing innovative ways to sell ebooks. Services from adding music tracks, to the ebook to pay-as-you read, to pay-what-you-want, to offering free ebooks that come with advertisements embedded in the ebook are just a few examples.


Advertisements in print books have come and gone. However, the idea of using them in digital books has hung around for a few years. Although, the idea appears to have met with little success.

In 2012, a company called eBookPlus offered free ebooks to readers. The catch was that these ebooks contained advertisements. The company claimed that a survey they conducted of 5,000 people in the United States revealed that 45.7% of readers would prefer free ebooks with advertising (in the form of a 15-second pre-roll at the beginning of chapters). Sadly, the company was unable to make the model successful, as they are no longer in business. Whether their demise came about from lack of advertisers for the books or lack of readers willing to sit through the ads, I don’t know.

Currently, two other small companies are trying the advertisements in ebooks idea.

Readfy, a German company, offers free access to 50,000 ebooks published by German publishers via their app. Readfy’s ebooks contain mobile ads. Banner ads occupy the upper edge of the screen, and Readfy also inserts ads at the chapter breaks.

Bookboon, another company based in Europe offers more than 800 academic textbooks free on their website. These free textbooks are financed by brand ads in the books.

Now a company in the United States has decided to try the idea again. Eleven will launch later this year. The company is offering readers free access to thousands of ebooks in exchange for ads placed at the beginning of each chapter. They will also offer a way for readers to pay the author at the end of the book if they like what they read (much like Poland’s’

Interestingly, Eleven will not just be offering ad-supported free ebooks. With the history of lack of success of other companies trying this, Eleven will also offer a paid subscription plan where users will not have to view ads.

Eleven is encouraging authors to publish their books to the Eleven site. They understand that authors looking to expand their audience can use this free method, while still earning a little money from royalties from the advertisement revenue. Readers get the chance to find new authors at no financial risk.

What do you think of this idea? Would you allow ads to be placed in your ebook in exchange for users reading the ebook for free as a strategy to expand your readership?

Related Posts:
Ad Supported eBooks
Placing Ads in eBooks
Innovative Ways to Sell Digital Content

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“I just discovered a new recipe for pumpkin flan.”


“I just got hooked on the Game of Thrones show.”

“Have you checked out the new Fresh Market down the street?”

People love to share things they have discovered with others. Discovering things we like gives us a feeling of pleasure, so sharing it with others is natural.

Discoverability is one of the new buzz-words in promoting books. People need to discover your book and the pleasure it brings. As an author, you want people to discover you. Once they do, if they like one of your books, they most likely will read the rest of your books.
This is why so many authors and publishers run specials offering one of their ebooks for free or $.99. The hope is that the reader will download the book, read it, enjoy it, and then go purchase another book by the author to read. This is discoverability at its finest for an author.

Offering a free or heavily discounted special on an ebook really works best for authors with multiple books because the hope is that the reader will enjoy the author and purchase other books by that author to read. Some first-time authors also use the technique of offering their ebook free or heavily discounted for a short-period of time to entice people to download it and read it. These authors are hoping that the readers will enjoy the book and tell their friends about it.

Either way, offering an ebook for free or at a highly-discounted rate of $.99 can be an effective way to boast your discoverability. However, just offering the special is not enough. You need to advertise your special—that is, let as many people as you can know about the special.

In addition to placing announcements on your social media sites and in an eblast to your current customer database, you can post your ebook special on sites dedicated to letting readers know about free or heavily discounted ebooks.

Multiple sites exist that allow authors to list a free or heavily discounted ebook to let readers know about the special. Some of these sites offer free listing, others charge a small fee. These sites include:

If you are wanting more readers to discover your books, try a free or discounted ebook promotion!

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eBook Sales Data

Smashwords is a self-serve ebook platform. It began in 2008 and has grown from publishing 140 ebooks that year to publishing 276,000 in 2013.

Smashwords has conducted an annual survey of the data from book sales from their service for the past few years. Each survey that Smashwords has shared has revealed interesting information that is helpful for authors seeking to sell more ebooks. This year is no exception.

Some of the interesting findings from this year’s survey include:

  1. A few ebook titles sell fabulously well, but most sell poorly.
  2. Readers prefer longer ebooks. As word count drops, sales also drop. Most best-selling ebooks have at least 100,000 words.
  3. eBook prices of $2.99 and $3.99 are still the sweet spots for fiction ebook prices. Books at these prices yielded the most author earnings.
  4. Nonfiction ebooks tend to earn more at higher prices. The Smashwords survey revealed that many authors are underpricing their nonfiction ebooks.
  5. Free still works, but it is losing its punch. Free remains one of the most powerful book marketing tools because it makes it easier for readers to take a risk on an author brand that is unknown or untrusted. Yet, the effectiveness of free is down when compared to the past two annual surveys conducted by Smashwords—largely because so many authors are offering free ebooks.

Every book is unique. These survey results simply show averages. Consider this information as data to help you make more informed decisions about the ebooks you publish.

Want to know more? The slideshow featuring the overall data from the survey is embedded below for you to pursue.

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The Free eBook Conundrum

I recently saw The Desolation of Smaug, the second movie of The Hobbit. At the end of the movie, the whole theater audience let out a collective groan—not because the ending was so horrible, but because the ending was a complete cliff hanger.

free ebooks

A number of years ago, I read the first two books in a trilogy by a Christian author. At the end of the second book, I just had to know how the story concluded. I spend an entire Saturday driving around the city I lived in, going from Christian bookstore to Christian bookstore hoping to find a copy of the third book in the series (this was before the Internet or ebooks).

Recently, I downloaded a free Christian novel on my tablet. This book was the first in a series. However, I upon completing the novel, I had no desire to purchase the remaining books in the series, even though I was disappointed that the story was left undone. I just did not like the author’s writing style, her characters, or the story line well enough to invest more time and money in the series.

A current trend in marketing books is to give away free digital copies to hook readers. I think that publishers and authors should be very careful about how they use this strategy. Studies are suggesting that around two-thirds of all ebooks downloaded are done so for free. Another study found that around 60% of downloaded ebooks were never read. Does this mean that people are not reading these free ebooks?

I believe that digital book giveaways work best for authors who have a series of books. In “Do Book Giveaways Work?“, I cited the finding that if readers liked what they read in the free book, 85% were extremely likely to buy another book from that author. Giving away the first book in a series to hook readers into buying the additional books in the series is a good strategy. Yet, it is best to make sure there is some type of cliff hanger at the end of each book in the series to keep readers coming back for more.

If you do not have a series, but are only a one book author, don’t give away the complete version of your ebook hoping to spur word-of-mouth sales. You may get a few, but probably not as many as you are seeking. Instead, offer enough free chapters to hook the reader into purchasing the complete book. I recently saw that one Christian author was giving away the first 14 chapters of his book as a free digital book. Obviously, he was hoping to hook enough readers into buying the entire book to finish the story.

The same strategy can work for nonfiction works. However, keep in mind that most readers only read about half of a nonfiction book. Therefore, to hook readers give away enough chapters with just enough information to get the readers to want the remainder of the information to complete the message.

I would love to hear what your experience has been in giving away free digital copies of a book to spur sales.

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Read an eBook Week

This week is Read an eBook Week. In fact, the whole month is eBook Month.


If you have an ebook, this week (and this month) is a great time to promote your ebook and find new readers. This nationally recognized Read an eBook Week offers many great ways to promote your book.  Here are a few for you to consider:

  1. If you have been meaning to make your books into ebooks, now is the time to do it. Make your books available as ebooks for eBook Month and send out press releases letting the media know.
  2. Offer your blog as an ebook to your readers for eBook Awareness Month.
  3. Host an ebook meet-up in your area and teach newbies how to use their Smart phone, iPad, iPod Touch, or Tablet to download and read ebooks during Read an eBook Week.
  4. Tweet links to your ebooks during Read an eBook Week at #ebookweek.
  5. Offer a special on all your ebooks during Read an eBook Week or for the whole month of March.

I am offering my blog as an ebook this month. If you wish to have all my published blog posts as an ebook for you to read at your leisure, you can download Marketing Christian Books blog at Simply choose whether you want to download this blog as an ePub file or a Mobi file. Then enjoy reading!

In addition, Christian Small Publishers Association (CSPA) member publisher, Sable Creek Press, is offering two of their books for free on Kindle tomorrow, Tuesday, March 5, for eBook Week. Take advantage of this special and download these books to read!

I would love to hear about the specials you are offering on your ebooks this week or month. Leave me a comment and let me and all my blog’s readers know about your ebook special.

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