9781402256783.gifSo we had a good idea, perhaps you heard about it.

December 16 is Jane Austen’s birthday and we thought to celebrate by giving away free ebooks of a number of our bestselling Jane Austen-inspired works, plus special ebook editions of Austen’s 6 novels including the famous Brock brothers’ illustrations. The goal? A one-day only extravaganza giveaway just for her birthday, and we’d offer it everywhere ebooks are sold.

One of the things we’re trying to do on the Sourcebooks Next blog is talk about digital experiments from the point of view of those actually doing the work. So this is the short story of our Jane Austen promotion – and how it went wrong.

Let me start by explaining what went wrong: simply put, on the morning of December 16, the books in the promotion were not free. And people noticed of course – everyone who’d so graciously spread the word of the promo was now justifiably taking us to task.

So what happened? Here are the challenges we faced, whether we knew them or not (and in a number of cases, we just didn’t know).

Challenge #1: Not Enough Time
For starters, we came up with the idea for the entire promotion on December 3, less than two weeks before the date. Within days we had announced the program internally, drafted our releases, and begun the gears turning. It turns out, though, that when we run promotions across multiple etailers, they need at least two weeks to ensure proper setup and we’ve found it’s usually best to have about six to eight weeks of total processing time (and cushion) to ensure that all our external retailers can process the information and set it up to happen at the same time. Is digital retailing and cataloguing instantaneous? No, it’s not.

Challenge #2: Multiple External Systems
Every one of our external vendors has a different system and schedule, so we work individually with the iBookstore, Google, Nook, Kindle, and everyone else. Each of our etailers has a different timeline and process for implementing promotions. We have a mix where we manually adjust prices at some accounts and we submit price changes via spreadsheet to other accounts. We generally cannot specify an exact time for these promotions to take effect, though most of our accounts let us specify the day. So it’s more complicated than you (or I obviously) would expect.

Challenge #3: “Available Everywhere Ebooks Are Sold”
This would’ve all been easier if we’d just done something like offer the files on a designated landing page on our website, right? Certainly, it would’ve been easier for us, but what reader wants that kind of restriction? With some devices, we know you’re restricted to where you can get your ebooks. So we were going for ultimate ease – no extra clicks, syncs, or heaven-knows-what workaround to try getting these ebooks on your device. Turns out that goal complicated things.

Challenge #4: “One Day Only!”
We’ve run countless ebook promotions with our ebook partners, but I don’t think we’d ever tried a one-day-only promotion. Usually a special offer runs a week, two weeks, a month. A day? Didn’t know if we could do it. And the answer is yes, many of our partners can run one-day offers. But not all of them. A few places can’t or don’t run one-day offers. Well, we didn’t know that at the beginning of this process.

Challenge #5: Territory Restrictions
Here’s one that frankly didn’t occur to us. If you wanted to download an ebook from the promotion and you were in Australia, the UK, or elsewhere, could you get it? The answer was sometimes no. In some cases underlying territory restrictions on the publishing rights side may have gotten in the way, and in some cases the territory restrictions may have come from your account at an etailer. This too was a result of our attempt to have the books available with each retail partner. And what happened with those partners when some of the books were available but some were not? Well, that turned out to be new learning too.

So what did we learn?
Well, as with so many things, your results are often determined by communication, time, and raw effort. Our lack of time probably knocked down what we could accomplish with the other two. And I really have to give kudos to our etailing partners, many of whom scrambled to help us through these unforeseen problems. Indeed, as the morning of December 16 ticked along, the promotion went live at store after store. And we quickly chose to extend the promotion an extra day to make up for the awkward start.

In close, we first and foremost offer our apologies – we tried, we screwed up, we’re sorry. We hope those who wanted the books were able to get them, and that readers have been able to discover the work of these wonderful authors. We believe that all the stores now have them free except Sony (who will shortly). And we’ve added one more day as a Bonus Jane Austen Birthday Celebration!

Feel free to tell us what you think. It’s been an exciting day. And did I mention, we launched a new website (the new sourcebooks.com) and an incredible new initiative, Books Change Lives in conjunction with awesome partners Friday Reads and Shelf Unbound today too! Can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings!

Thanks to everyone who participated!


Via Sourcebooks’ Authors.Readers.Next. blog


  1. A fine admission and detailed account for future mishap-avoidance.

    I must admit I would not have gone the promotional route myself for a classic book so readily available for free online anyway, and beforehand would have assumed such efforts would be a great deal of bother for a rather obscure ROI (employee time is money spent).

    I–like many of my fellow writers and readers–use Project Gutenberg for reading the ‘classic’ eBooks when the inkling strikes, for the plain formatting (to me) does not distract from the finely-woven prose. A few of my acquaintances had no problem at all getting PG files to open on their dedicated eReaders and would not think of using a company to get a title during a heavily visited promotional one-day-only server system.

  2. There were Austin-inspired books too, free that day, by authors who could benefit from the exposure, not ‘just’ the Classics…

    Not sure that was in the promo I saw though…

    Thanks for a good look at how tough a business it IS – the coordination of it all is another complex layer, in a 24-shifting-hour ‘On’ world full of rules…

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