What's bad about PDF books

The strategy experts

Are free books really free and why do they do that?

Show notes

There seems to be a new marketing trend this year - free books. Printed books are given away by the authors - only against reimbursement of costs for printing and shipping.
What some consider to be a bad sales ploy is actually a clever marketing move.
In this podcast episode we talk about two aspects of the free book phenomenon:

  1. The business side - is that really a gift or do the authors make money with it?
  2. The Marketing Side - Why Are Free Books Such A Powerful Marketing Tool And Where Is It Really Making Money?

Mentioned in the podcast

Our ebook publisher Eddie-Books.com

more on the subject

A free book can also strengthen the positioning of premium providers by making them a book author. This is a special case. Basically, however, low-price strategies should be used with caution, as the price can strongly influence the positioning. More on this in podcast # 157 Positioning and prices - how they influence each other

Basic tips on the subject of free offers can be found in podcast # 186 Making free offers - When is that a good strategy?


There seems to be a new marketing trend this year - free books. In other words, printed books that are given away - only against reimbursement of costs for printing and shipping.

I've read a couple of times on Facebook that some think this is a bad sales ploy. According to the motto “Because of free. Shipping is much cheaper. He's guaranteed to deserve something ".

Since we also run an e-book publisher ourselves, we know a little about the field. Reason enough to explain the product free book here. Is that really a gift and why are they actually doing it?

Preliminary remark

I would like to say one thing in advance. What I am explaining to you now is not to be understood as a criticism. That should be a factual and objective analysis. Whether you think that's good or bad, please decide for yourself. From a purely business point of view, I find the phenomenon of free books, as Mr. Spock would say, “fascinating”.

What do we mean by a free book

First, let's clarify what I mean by free books.

You have probably seen an advertisement or a Facebook post or received a newsletter that says in the past few months

"I'll give you my new book"

If you then follow the link, it means that you will of course get the book for free, but please bear the costs of printing and shipping. That usually comes down to prices between 5 and 8 euros. The distribution - I consciously don't say "sale" - is mostly done via Digistore24 or another online shop. You will then receive a more or less extensive and elaborately designed book in the mail. Paperback or hardcover - in any case clearly a real book, even with ISBN.

Was that a gift and if so, why is someone doing this effort.

Let's start with the economics behind the free book product

The cost side

In fact, the editors or authors - whatever you want to call them - have no intention of making the book itself for profit. The profit comes from elsewhere later. I'll explain that later.

The books that I know are usually priced between 5 and 8 euros. This flat rate is justified with the costs for printing and shipping.

I think we all agree that it costs money to print a book and get it to the recipient. According to our estimate, these 5 to 8 euros should actually correspond to the costs incurred.

On the one hand there are those Printing costs. That is likely to be one of the largest cost items.

As I said, we have published several books on Amazon. If you place an ebook there and choose the print on demand variant to create a print title, the printing costs are, for example, 1.90 for books with 50 to 100 pages and 3.90 for a book with almost 300 pages.

The next big block is the whole logistics. These are not just the pure postage costs. In addition, there is storage and all the handling in the shipping process. There are service providers for this who can also be paid for.

The online shop through which sales are handled also takes one commission. At Digistore24 this is € 1 + 7.9% of the gross price per sales transaction. For a book of 5 euros, this is around 1.40 euros.

value added tax is also still in it - at 5 EUR and 7% for books that is another 35 cents.

As you can see, there's not much room left for a big win.

Money is earned with other products that are later offered to the “buyers” or, better still, “orderers” of these free books. I'll explain that in more detail in a moment.

Why is the demand for these free books so high

The subject of economics also includes why such gift books go away like hot cakes in masses. I am now assuming that they do that, otherwise they wouldn’t always do it that way.

Sure, there is the well-oiled machinery of marketing professionals.

But the - I'll call it price - also plays a role.

On the one hand, an amount of less than 10 euros is a no-brainer. That's not a lot of money. The advertising made you curious. What do you risk with 8 EURO. Even if the book is really no good, the 8 EURO won't hurt you.

That makes it a lot easier to hit the buy button.

In addition, these prices are below an important psychological limit.

Think about it if you go to a bookstore and want to buy a non-fiction book or a guidebook. What is the price level like there? Mostly over 10 EURO, sometimes even in the range of 20-30 EURO.

With that you are unconsciously comparing this 5-8 EURO cost sharing. And with that, your brain recognizes a bargain here. So you hit it.

Why do trainers, consultants and writers publish free books

So, if you can't make money out of it, why does someone do it to bring out a free book like that. Work definitely does.

There are two aspects to this

  • On the one hand the positioning and image building effect and
  • On the other hand, as already indicated, the function of these books in the sales funnel

The positioning and image effect

Basically, such a free book is nothing more than a particularly elaborate lead magnet - a freebie or goodie that you offer to make new contacts - mostly in the form of email addresses for your own mailing list.

The fact is that virtually anyone can create a simple freebie these days. Write a few pages of instructions or a checklist, make a pdf out of it, put it on your website and link it to a newsletter form. The basic version of the technology for this is free of charge today.

Anyone can do that and it feels like everyone does.

If you want to stand out from the crowd of freebies, then you have to come up with something.

For example a printed book.

This means that such a free book is practically a demarcation from the bottom. A physical product is more complex. Not everyone does that anymore.

In the perception of most people, a printed book has a much higher value than a simple pdf.

With something like this you signal a lot, directly or indirectly:

  • You are saying "I play in a different league, namely in the premium segment"
  • From now on you can call yourself a book author with a clear conscience. This increases your market value as a trainer and speaker tremendously.
  • Since these books are usually pushed into the market with a lot of marketing, there are also impressive sales figures. That again underscores how successful you are.
  • Simply by doing something that not everyone can do, you signal "I have it." I am successful. I can even do something like that. People tear my book out of my hands, even though they have to pay a small fee for it. "
  • That's roughly the same message as, “Hey. I'm holding a workshop in the Maldives that costs several thousand euros and all 25 places are already sold out. "
    Not everyone can do that. This is premium.

Because now everyone can see with their own eyes that you are playing in the premium league, in the future you can also offer premium products at premium prices and people will buy them. After all, you want to learn from the best and become so successful.

At this point a tip for your positioning
You don't necessarily have to publish a book to position yourself accurately, to stand out from the competition and to present yourself to your target group as THE perfect solution.

What an accurate positioning needs in any case

  • careful and thorough work
  • good ideas
  • permanent and consistent communication

We will help you with all of this and much more in Positioning thinkers club.

Get the support of us and a strong group of like-minded people for your accurate positioning that will bring you customers and sales!

>> Here you can find out everything about the Positioning Forward Thinkers Club >>

The role of free books in the sales funnel

This brings us to the second important function of such free books.

As I said, these are actually just elaborate lead magnets. You give away a book and get contact details for it. In this case, even the complete address, because otherwise the shipping will not work.

Once you have your address, you can and will stay in contact with you. Then the online marketing sales funnel starts practically according to the textbook.

You will receive emails with further information that you will hopefully find useful. Trust is built. You will of course be presented with other great offers from this author. They are then no longer free + printing and shipping. These are then larger courses, day workshops, coaching and at some point probably also the 3000 EURO workshop in the Maldives. After all, you are dealing with someone in the premium segment here.

And that's how the publishers of the free books really make money.

That is the second reason for all the effort with the books that were given away. Without this gift, the authors would not be able to get in touch with you and thus not be able to offer you their profitable products.

If you know that, you will also understand why they really don't want to make any money with the book.


I assume with some certainty that the publishers of free books in exchange for reimbursement of printing and shipping do not actually make any money with these "given away" books.

This gift is only one element in a long chain that is then profitable in total.

With the free book, the editors receive contact details of people who are interested in their offers. This allows them to make further offers to these people. They then earn money on these higher-priced products.

Of course, such a book campaign is really good for the image. This moves you a bit into the premium segment and differentiates yourself from the bottom.

Filed Under: Podcast, Strategy