Go Set a Watchman A Novel - Kindle edition by Harper Lee. Literature & Fiction Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.The goal of the content sample is to acquire new customers, right? So why are publishers settling for sample content models that are outdated and largely ineffective?

Look at ebooks, for instance. Publishers mostly rely on retailers for discovery and distribution, just like how they sell the full ebook. To make matters worse, most of these samples are under lock and key inside each retailer’s walled garden [image to the left is from Amazon’s site – D.R.]. What if you want to send your friend the great sample you just read? Even though publishers should fully embrace and encourage readers to pass samples around it’s next to impossible in today’s model.

Newspapers and magazines aren’t much different. Yes, they tend to offer some number of free articles on their websites. They even offer email campaigns where the links to these articles automatically appear in your inbox every day or month. One of the benefits of the old newspaper and magazine format is the original container though. Even though containers are disappearing over time, there’s still a benefit to having the material presented in a curated manner as envisioned by the editor. So why not make samples available in that format as well as the website version? Put it in an app and make it portable, so prospective customers simply download and go. And don’t forget to include the ads; after all, samples can also represent another revenue stream.

Speaking of containers, why aren’t more publishers doing cross-container sampling? My local newspaper knows my reading habits. I use their mobile app to stay up-to-date with local news while I’m on the road. So why aren’t they using that information to offer me samples of books on those topics I tend to read most often? Book publishers would love this opportunity and I’m sure an affiliate deal could be cut with the newspapers so everyone enjoys a portion of the resulting revenue stream when I purchase an ebook through this sampling model. It’s also a way for the newspaper publisher to add some value and show me they’re really paying attention to my interests.

Next, how about making these cross-container samples bigger and therefore more valuable than the ones I can get elsewhere? Again, it’s a way of adding value to existing subscriptions or prior purchases.

Lastly, once and for all, publishers, please start encouraging a frictionless sharing model with your samples. Make it super easy for me to email the sample to a friend. All my friends don’t use the same ebook platform I use. So if I’m enthusiastic about a new sample I just read, make it easy for me to share all the popular formats with my friends. And please, please, please…remove DRM from samples. You want these assets to become a viral sensation, so it’s time to remove all the obstacles that prevent this from happening.

Published originally in Joe Wikert’s Digital Content Strategies. Reproduced with permission.

Related: Sampling: How a research fiend saves money on e-books, by Joanna Cabot.


  1. None of the major ebook retailers seem to have figured this new market out. They’re all flailing about.

    * Amazon seems to think all books are novels and auto-generates its samples from a book’s beginning chapters. That doesn’t work with a lot of non-fiction, which may open with dull-as-dust acknowledgments and a foreword. On the other hand, Amazon does an excellent job of making the books it sells discoverable online.

    * Apple lets the author/publisher select the parts of the book included in the sample, which is good. But while it is possible to link to book pages in the iBookstore, Apple doesn’t make it easy for potential customers to browse online. It assumes potential customers will always be coming in through their iBooks apps, which isn’t good, particularly for potential customers who are not familiar with iBooks.

    Both Amazon and Apple need to learn from the other. Apple in particular, also needs to let authors and publishers sell their reflowable and fixed-format editions as one package. It’s one content. so It should be one purchase.

    I’ve begun to publish inexpensive, what it is really like, textbooks for those in or studying medicine and nursing. The readers need to be able to view those books on iPads (as fixed-format) and iPhones (reflowable) without paying twice.

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