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How Content Marketers Can Reach a Larger Audience by Redefining the E-Book

It is impossible for a week to pass without an important news story about e-books. Of course these stories are about the “other” e-books — the ones sold by Amazon and Barnes & Noble and read using Kindles, Nooks, tablets, and smartphones.

How do these “commercial” e-books differ from the PDF e-books we marketers advocate? Three ways:

  1. PDF e-books are not sold through Amazon and other online stores.
  2. PDF e-books do not lend themselves to sharing on social networks.
  3. PDF e-books provide a poor user experience on smartphones and tablets. They require too much pinching and panning to be easily read.

In fact, as screens get smaller…

  • Smartphone adoption reached 49.7 percent penetration in February 2012 and is expected to climb to 70 percent of all mobile phones by the end of 2013. (Nielsen)
  • The number of Americans owning at least one digital reading device (tablet, Kindle, Nook, etc.) jumped from 18 percent in December 2011 to 29 percent in January 2012 (Pew Internet)

… digital reading is going more mobile (according to Pew Internet’s 2012 study, The Rise of eReading):

  • 41 percent of readers of e-books consume them on an e-book reader such as a Kindle or Nook.
  • 29 percent of readers of e-books consume them on their cell phones.
  • 23 percent of readers of e-books consume them on a tablet computer.

If the goal is to produce content that gets found, read, and shared, then content marketers can’t ignore mobile devices and online bookstores. Further, this adoption rate creates new opportunities for engagement and revenue generation.

Here’s a look at a few examples of the redefined, modern e-book.

The revenue opportunity

Making your e-book available in retail stores can expand your audience, and maybe even your bottom line.

Apple released its Lion operating system in July of 2011 and Ars Technica reviewer John Siracusa was ready with his detailed 27,000-word review. But instead of confining the article to the web, where it was available as an advertising-supported, 19-page, free document, Ars Technica formatted it for Kindle and sold it on Amazon for $4.99. Ars reported selling 3,000 copies in just the first 24 hours, which netted $10,500 ($4.99 x 3,000 x 70 percent royalty).

The marketing opportunity

Content marketers can convert their free PDF e-books into regular e-books to reach new readers.

The McKinsey Global Institute and the American Society of Golf Course Architects are examples of e-books for marketing. Both create free content (as a PDF) to promote their organizations. These PDF e-books are available for download from their website for free. But they take it a step further by formatting their content as e-books and selling them on Amazon.

Making their information available in an online bookstore helps them reach an entirely new group of readers — readers that may not have otherwise stumbled upon their website or information. This raises the question, “Is Amazon becoming the Google for information products?”

For these publishers, repurposing their content as paid e-books is more about finding a new audience than it is about revenue generation. It also demonstrates that e-book buyers are willing to pay for the convenience and improved functionality of these e-books.

Remember, you don’t have to charge

There are two major e-book file formats used by e-reading devices. Amazon’s proprietary Mobi format and the “industry standard” ePub format, used by virtually all other e-book retailers (including Apple, Sony and Barnes & Noble). Like PDF, both Mobi and ePub are free of distribution licensing fees.

If you plan to make your content available for free you can create a version in each file format — Mobi, ePub and PDF — and place them on your website to be available as downloads.

One great example of this implementation is the collection of free user guides published by MailChimp. Each of its 28 guides is available in all three formats in addition to being readable via a web browser.

Simply download the zip file and transfer the appropriate file to the e-reading device of your choice. By including a PDF, your readers can also print the document (do people still do this!?).

Amazon’s Kindle e-books can be shared via social networks

Has this happened to you: You’re reading a book and you come upon an interesting passage that you wish to share with your friends. With Kindle books (and perhaps others soon, too), you can share that passage on Facebook and/or Tweet it.

Ever wonder what other people highlight in their books? Visit a Kindle book page on Amazon and look for “Popular Highlights.” You’ll see a list of favorite phrases and the number of people that highlighted them. What author wouldn’t love to find out what passages her readers found most interesting? (A great market research tool!)

The last social media benefit I’ll mention is Reading List by Amazon, a LinkedIn application that shares your reading list with other LinkedIn members. This is an opportunity for your readers to tell others that they are reading your book.

How to convert your content to Mobi and ePub formats

While not as painless as creating a PDF, this process is relatively straightforward for content marketers when you follow a few best practices. The good news is that new tools are coming out all the time, and there are third-party professionals skilled in producing e-books.

But if you want to try to do it yourself, there are seven basic steps:

  1. Using Microsoft Word, follow best practices in formatting your document. Use style sheets, avoid extra lines, and don’t use spaces for tabs. Also, make sure graphics, charts, and tables are stored as jpeg or gif files. Insert these into the document where they belong. Keep in mind that text does not flow around images, so create your layout appropriately (text, then image, then text). There are no headers and footers in e-books, so make sure to remove these in advance, so as not to create formatting issues.
  2. Most e-books benefit from a linked table of contents to help the reader navigate the material. In Word, select Insert, then Bookmark to name the destination. Then link to it with Insert, Hyperlink. (Word’s table of contents auto-generator also works but could cause conversion problems later.)
  3. Download a copy of Calibre, a free (donations welcome) e-book library manager. This tool will help you convert your document to Mobi and ePub file formats.
  4. Save your Word document as a filtered HTML file. If your document includes images, you’ll need to combine the resultant HTML document (.htm) and image folder into a zip file before importing into Calibre.
  5. Invest in designing a professional-looking book cover. It is true what they say about judging books by the cover. It’s also important for branding.
  6. Download one of the free software e-readers from Amazon or B&N, or load your e-book on your e-reader to see how it looks and check it for typos, layout problems, etc.
  7. If you plan to sell your e-book, you will want to set up a free account with Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing and/or Barnes & Noble’s Pubit.

(Note: You can click here for a free checklist of the steps necessary for publishing an e-book.)

Leverage your content investment by redefining the e-book

In today’s consumer-driven media landscape, the word e-book has a very different connotation. Creating mainstream or modern e-books may not be relevant for every content project, but for the right ones, it can make a huge difference.

Want more content marketing inspiration? Download our ultimate e-book with 100 content marketing examples.

Cover image: Yutaka Tsutano