When Free Is the Best Launch Strategy

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

Digital publishing thrives on experimentation. Successful digital publishers rely on experiments in discoverability, promotions, and content to reach new audiences in the vast marketplace of eBooks.

There are several marketing strategies one could implement during the launch of a digital-original eBook. But making the eBook free the first 5 days of the launch? Sure, why not?

The-Shriver-Report-224x300RosettaBooks decided to test the effects of a free eBook marketing strategy with the most recent Shriver Report. Maria Shriver and the Center for American Progress have together issued a series of Shriver Reports. The most recent report is “A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back from the Brink,” which has had an extraordinary amount of national publicity since its launch on Jan. 12 last month.

The 400-plus page report is a combination of polling data, sociological, political science and economic analytics and personal accounts from everyday and prominent people reflecting on their own lives and the difference their mothers made in their success.

On the production side, the report was not going to be complete before December 1, 2013. The issuance date of Jan. 12, 2014, was mandatory, since it coordinated with the 50th anniversary of the War Against Poverty (administered by Maria Shriver’s father Sargent Shriver) and a wide array of national media prepared to cover the release.

The challenge for Maria Shriver, the Center for American Progress and their team was how best to launch the Report for maximum policy attention and sales (which benefit the nonprofit).

The earliest a print edition could be published was mid March, coordinating with an HBO special presented by Maria Shriver.

We recommended a digital-original edition which could be released to coordinate with Maria Shriver’s first major national news appearance on Meet the Press on Jan. 12, 2014.

There were some challenges in formatting the eBook. The Report has extensive photography, charts, graphs and other design elements.  If the Report was presented as a “fixed format” eBook, it would only play on tablets and would reach a fraction of the eBook market.  Since the goal was to achieve the broadest possible reach, RosettaBooks worked with the Shriver team to create a reflowable eBook which would do justice to the material but support distribution on a wide array of devices.

To maximize distribution in the early days of launch, we recommended that the Report be free for a period of days.  By opting for a Kindle exclusive and extensive site promotion, the Report could be downloaded for free its first five days. There were more than 30,000 downloads – an extraordinary number for a policy document.  The Report was one of the top 15 free downloads in the Kindle Store for all categories.

On the sixth day, the Report became a traditional eBook priced purposely at the attractive digital list price of $6.99 (rather than RosettaBooks’  traditional price point of $9.99 for full length nonfiction).  Within the first 24 hours of sale, the Report was No. 1 in Women in Politics, No. 3 in Women’s Studies and No. 5 in Gender Studies.  The category pages also highlighted the Report as Hot New Releases and Most Wished For.

Moving forward, there will be ongoing promotion from Maria Shriver, ShriverReport.org, the Center for American Progress and tie-in to the HBO documentary to attract viewership for its March 17 premiere. We also plan cross-promotion with Palgrave Macmillan and the print version of the Report (releasing March 11), which will help maximize sales and outreach of both the print and eBook editions.

In a world before eBooks, the only option open for broad distribution of a Report like this would be a traditional printing and physical distribution one-by-one — incredibly expensive and very difficult to target and impact the desired audience.  In an eBook world, the interested reader by the tens of thousands has access to the Report and likely reads the material in far more depth than if they had been given an unsolicited print copy.

The combination of public relations, social media marketing, site merchandising, an initial free distribution strategy and an attractive price point for the Report all combine to make a policy document a publishing event.

Expert Publishing Blog
Arthur Klebanoff

About Arthur Klebanoff

Arthur Klebanoff is the founder and CEO of RosettaBooks, a leading independent eBook publisher. RosettaBooks offers 500 eBooks worldwide including such classic titles as Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey as well as the major works of Kurt Vonnegut, Winston Churchill and Arthur C. Clarke.