The Business of eBooks

eBook basics and business models

Woman with Computer
An eBook is a self-contained electronic publication, typically with pages that simulate a printed book. An eBook may contain text, graphics, hyperlinks, animations, videos, or other multimedia objects. Some eBook technologies include Digital Rights Management (DRM), to protect copyrighted content from unauthorized use.

An eBook may be downloaded to a computer or handheld device such as a PDA or SmartPhone, or to a dedicated (hardware) eBook reader. Dedicated readers have lagged in popularity because of concerns about size, weight, battery consumption, and cost.

Researchers have been working frantically to develop “electronic paper,” a computer display technology that approximates the size, weight, and other physical characteristics of real paper. The general assumption is that electronic paper will revolutionize the way people interact with information. But that’s still a few years away.

eBook covereBooks for today’s devices employ a variety of technologies for authoring and reading. eBooks may be distributed as a simple data file to recipients who already have a separate reader. An eBook may be viewed from a Web site using a browser plug-in. Or, an eBook may be distributed as a standalone package with a reader included. Regardless of the technology, eBooks are very easy to use.

eBooks can include live Web links, embedded html, and audio and video content. eBooks can also include forms for providing response vehicles, entry forms, reader polls, or other kinds of opt-in customer data forms. The most sophisticated eBooks can also provide usage statistics that indicate which articles and ads readers find most useful.

eBook Publishing Business Models

There are several ways to profit from eBook publishing, either to make money from unit sales and/or advertising or to save money in printing and distribution costs. As a standalone product, there are several successful eBook business models we can observe:

Book Publishing: Traditional book publishers create eBook versions of print titles or eBook-only titles that are sold through traditional bookselling channels and Web sites. For example, visitors to can purchase eBooks in Microsoft Reader and Adobe Reader formats.

Magazine Publishing: Magazine publishers create eBook versions of their magazines, and provide them to readers via a Web site or via a link that is emailed. Readers may subscribe to eBook-only versions or pay for individual eBook downloads. Advertisers may pay extra for sponsoring eBook versions. Magazine eBooks are often distributed in enhanced Adobe Acrobat (PDF) formats.

Reprint/Compilation Publishing: Magazine and Web publishers may reuse content to compile eBook collections of articles on single topics. For example, an eBook on home improvement tips may include articles published previously in print or on a Web site. Readers may purchase or qualify to receive these compilations individually. These types of eBooks may be distributed in Microsoft Reader, Adobe Reader, or enhanced formats such as Texterity or Desktop Author.

Advertising/sponsorship models may include:

  • single sponsor – an advertiser that wants to be associated with independent editorial content on a specific topic pays for ad space, branding, and access to opt-in customer leads;
  • multi-sponsor – a group of advertisers share ad space, branding, and leads;
  • branded content – an advertiser creates and edits content to reflect its own views and promote its own brand. In this model, all content is considered a form of “advertising.”
  • brand community – a “master brand” company sponsors the creation of content focused on customer/reader interests and invites other advertisers/sponsors to participate.

Publishers may also use eBooks as premiums. For example, prospects may be offered the opportunity to download a special topic eBook in exchange for personal information.

eBook Business Applications

eBooks can be used for any business application that otherwise requires the distribution of a paper publication. For example, eBooks can be used for corporate reports, interactive press releases, product instruction manuals or user guides, product catalogs, or multimedia kiosks.

eBooks in Integrated Media Marketing Strategy

An eBook also works well as part of a well-rounded integrated media marketing strategy that includes:

  • outbound print publications
  • opt-in email newsletters
  • Web seminars
  • custom Web sites
  • live events

In your print publications you can offer eBook editions for download and collect customer registration data in the process. You could also offer eBook editions of e-newsletter back issues. When you run a conference or seminar, you can convert proceedings to eBook format for sale or promotional distribution. Any marketing project that involves creating content can benefit from reusing the content in multiple contexts. If you print an article in your print newsletter, you can reuse it in email newsletters and eBooks. As with advertising, multiple impressions increase the number of people who ultimately read and recall your message. END

David M. Kalman is the president of Terrella Media, Inc. and the editor of BrandMagnet.