5.22 Selling Content

Sale of content — reports, specialist advice, software — is popular on the Internet, and for good reason. Fulfillment is a breeze. The customer provides credit card details and downloads the product. No warehousing costs or supplier difficulties. The drawback is that individuals expect information to be free, and are often reluctant to pay, even though the material saves them hours or weeks of individual search. It's unrealistic, but a tradition, and customers are creatures of habit.

These are the exceptions:

1. Software: unavoidable: few have the time or skills to write their own.
2. Music.
3. Adult sites.
4. Betting tips.
5. Stock-market advice.
6. Specialist reports where company concerned has an established reputation: financial, market research and topical material.
7.'How to' ebooks, particularly when promising a fortune on the Internet.
8. B2B reports: companies will pay for material that provides significant cost savings.

Content can be sold as distance learning courses, newsletters, ezines and ebooks.


Ebooks are electronic documents read at the computer screen or in handheld devices. In terms of increasing enterprise and outlay, there are two (overlapping) types of business:

1. Authorship only: i.e. writing salable copy, which is:

      a. Converted into ebooks by electronic publishers, either at cost to the author (vanity publishing), or by some share of profits/royalties (electronic publishing.)
      b. Converted into and stored in electronic form — to be later produced in book form as required (print on demand): author receives royalties.

2. Self-publishing: authors employ specialized software to produce the ebooks themselves, marketing and selling productions from their own websites.

Rather than produce large runs of books, incurring high costs for printing, warehousing and distribution, epublishers store the text electronically, either selling material as downloadable ebooks or as traditional books produced on a print-on-demand basis. Deals can be quite flexible. Authors typically pay to have their work prepared as print-on-demand, retaining copyright and a percentage of sales. In downloadable books the publishing company usually bears the cost, retains copyright and pays royalties. Multimedia material is generally marketed through CDs.

Boundaries are becoming increasingly blurred. Some print-on-demand publishers retain copyright, or the equally important ISBN number. Others work on a partnership basis. The more aggressive publishers accept virtually all manuscripts, providing editorial services and artwork as required. A few are very choosy indeed. CDs can complement these offerings. And so forth. The variations are legion is this expanding and largely untested field.

The author also enjoys these advantages:

1. Content can be kept topical.
2. Production is quicker, a few days rather than a year or two.
3. Costs are lower: a few hundred dollars rather than the usual tens of thousands.
4. Publications can be kept in print for long periods.
5. Sound files, video clips and pictures are easily added.

Nonetheless, the drawbacks are still formidable:

1. It's hard to make decent money. Sales at best are usually only a few thousand, which translates to a few tens of thousand dollars for many months or years of writing.
2. Publishing by this route does not bring kudos, and often the reverse. Attitudes are changing, but the booktrade still tends to regard self-publishing as glorified vanity publishing. A string of ebook titles may not therefore commend an author to an agent or traditional publisher.
3. Traditional publishing brings together many skilled professionals, and these are not commonly available to the ebook author. He or she has to do the shaping, proofing, art work, indexing, checking facts and copyright, pricing and marketing. Too often, if not to the author, the inexperience shows.
4. Writers need help with publishing contracts and other matters, but the profit margins are too thin to attract professional agents.
5. Ebook publishing is a volatile field, and it may be difficult to get copyright back if the company goes out of business.
6. Print on demand books are more expensive than their paper counterparts, and are not stocked by booksellers because the sale and return terms do not apply.
7. Most people prefer to read a book than look at a handheld viewer or computer screen.

That said, ebook publishing may be the ideal solution for:

1. Topical, health, how to, and financial information.
2. New themes or genres, so as to test the market.
3. Matter of local or specialist appeal: family histories, academic studies.
4. Literary work of little commercial value: poetry, experimental fiction.
5. Promotional material, company or industry-wide.


1. What advantages has the selling of content over selling physical goods on the Internet?
2. What sort of Internet content will people pay for? How could you find out?
3. You are marketing slimming and health advice. Would you choose distance learning courses, newsletters, ezines or ebooks? Why?
4. What should you look out for if selling through an ebook publisher?

Sources and Further Reading

Internet searches will locate such services as typesetting, book covers, proofing, barcodes, reviews, warehousing and book distribution.

1. Publishing Explained. Covers most aspects of traditional, self and electronic publishing.
2. Book Industry Statistics. Useful facts and figures.
3. Preditors and Editors. Information on publishers, agents and much else.
4. First Writer. Searchable database of publishers.
5. Writer's Guild of America. Agents and other resources.
6. Writers Write. Epublishing information and news, plus links to epublishers
7. netLibrary. Large eContent provider: listings for books and services.
8. Online Books Page. Lists 25,000 free books online.
9. Internet Authors Network. Services and user group to promote ebooks.
10. Journal of Electronic Publishing More scholarly articles on epublishing
11. Open Ebook Forum Organization of publishers, authors and software houses striving for international common standards in epublishing
12. Print on Demand Publishers. Publishes a useful guide.
13. Writer's Digest. Online help for all types of writers.