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The sorry state of ebook samples, and four ways to improve them

A good ebook sample can turn a browser into a buyer.

This post originally appeared on Joe Wikert’s Publishing 2020 Blog (“Rethinking Samples“). This version has been lightly edited.

I’m bored with ebook samples. I feel like I’m collecting a bunch and then forgetting about most of them. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone, and I’m even more certain this adds up to a ton of missed sales opportunities. Although this would be impossible to prove, my gut tells me the revenue missed by not converting samples into sales is a much larger figure than the revenue lost to piracy. And yet, the publishing industry spends a small fortune every year in DRM, but treats samples as an afterthought.

Think about it. Someone who pulls down a sample is already interested in your product. They’re asking you to win them over with the material you provide. Far too often, though, that material is nothing more than the front matter and a few pages of the first chapter. Some of the samples I’ve downloaded don’t even go past the front matter. I’m looking for something more.

Let’s start with the index. Would it really be that hard to add the index to ebook samples? No. And yet, I’ve never seen a sample with the index included. Sure, many of these books have indexes that can be viewed separately on the ebook’s catalog page, but why not include them in the sample? Give me a sense of what amount of coverage I can expect on every topic right there in the sample.

How about taking it up a notch? Give me the first X pages of the full content, include the entire index at the end, and in between include the rest of the book but have every other word or two X’d out? That way I can flip through the entire book and get a better sense of how extensively each topic is covered. By the way, if the entire book is included like this, then the index can include links back to the pages they reference.

Next up, why do I have to search and retrieve samples? Why can’t they be configured to automatically come to me? After a while a retailer should be able to figure out a customer’s interests. So why not let that customer opt in to auto sample delivery of ebooks that match their interests? I love baseball. Send me the samples of every new baseball book that comes out. I’ve got plenty of memory available in my ereader, and I can delete any samples I don’t want. Also, I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s worth saying again: How about letting me subscribe to samples from specific authors? Again, it would be an opt-in program, but I wonder how many interesting books I’ve missed because I didn’t discover the sample.

Finally, this problem doesn’t appear until after the sample is converted into a sale, but why can’t the newly downloaded ebook open up to where I left off in the sample? Seriously, this has got to be one of the easiest annoyances to fix, so why hasn’t anyone taken the time to do so?

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  • Brian Murchison

    Just a data point – my experience with Google books is that they DO remember where you left off in the sample of the ebook once you actually purchase the full copy, so at least someone has that part right . . .

  • http://bookneto.com E

    I think with respect to samples, there is a bigger opportunity with bringing some social context into the situation.

    I mean think about it, you buy books on friends’ recommendation. Imagine if Ebooks allowed your friends to turn parts of the books they liked to samples for you to read as part of a conversation about the issues therein. Kind of like letting your friends share snippets of the book with you and then structure that into a sales conversion process.

  • http://www.bim.net Kevin Broccoli

    Regarding this: “Give me the first X pages of the full content, include the entire index at the end…”

    Even better, link the index to several paragraphs of info in the text, like we did to Poke The Box at index masher.com.

    Why not?

  • http://twitter.com/DecHousePub December House

    Mainly the issue is the way sample “chapters” are created. Kindle and Kobo generate the e-book sample automatically based on the first 10% of the e-book file so if you include an index at the front you’re unlikely to get much in the way of the actual writing and there’s no way to have a separate sample file linking to samples of different chapters as you suggest. iBooks does let publishers generate totally independent samples though