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Jan 10, 2002
How To

How to Sell Content to Free Readers -- 3 Online Publishers Profiled

SUMMARY: As online ad sales plummeted over the past 12 months, almost all content Web sites and newletters are looking for additional sources of income.†Find out how three independent publishers are increasing their profits by selling content products directly to their readers.†This special report includes three quick profiles: Surfing the Net With Kids Tests eBooks;†Advanced Speaking Institute Sells $30-50K Month;†Internet Tourbus Blows Away Archived Issues Sales Goal.
Over the past year, MarketingSherpa has made far more money selling ancillary products in our Knowledge Store than we have in selling advertising. We wondered if the same might be true of other niche publishers too. Here are three profiles to inspire you:

Profile 1: Surfing the Net With Kids Tests eBooks

"I started out 2001, expecting the bottom line to be twice as good as 2000. It ended up being half that in the other direction. It was a tough year, but I survived," says Barbara Feldman, Publisher of Surfing the Net With Kids. Like many other online publishers, Feldman's previously healthy Web site and email newsletter ad sales revenues plunged right along with the economy.

By the summer she was looking around like crazy for supplemental revenue streams. She noticed, "The one thing I didn't have was any sort of end products. I was selling nothing to the consumer." More than half a million unique visitors go to Feldman's site every month, and almost 150,000 parents and teachers receive her free twice-weekly email newsletter. It was time to see if the end-reader could help support the company.

So Feldman went through her files, and compiled her best tips into an eBook, '100 Best Sites for Preschool and Kindergarden.' There are no hard and fast rules to follow on pricing, so she tested a variety of price points, including $4.95, $5.95 and $6.95 to discover a delicious fact: "It just didnít seem to make a difference which price I was at. It didn't seem to affect sales. So I stayed in the higher price!"

Feldman marketed the eBook on her site (link below) and in her email newsletter. Soon she learned why advertisers always prefer the top position, "My top ad works better than my middle ad." In fact it worked so much better that she began experimenting with positioning, placing the second ad directly under the top ad, instead of further down the page. "I like it better and no one's complained. Not a peep."

Encouraged by initial sales, Feldman published a second title. This time results were even better, "I noticed that the average sale increased. A lot of people were buying both! I needed more eBooks." She quickly expanded her offerings to include a total of seven self-published eBooks (including a 2001 newsletter archive CD and '59 3/4 Fabulous Sites for Harry Potter Fans') as well as a special three-book bundle offer for $15.95.

Within three months of launching them, Feldman's eBooks were responsible for 5% of her entire 2001 revenues, which means they could equal as much as 20% of revenues for 2002.

"I am so pleased," she says, "I basically have done nothing but throw them on my Web site and put notes in my newsletter." She's continuing to expand aggressively, with deals to sell Tumbleweed ô ebooks on her site, and her own new 'Printables' product line of classroom handouts for teachers.

Her one piece of advice for other publishers is not to sell eBooks in an ".exe" format, which Macs often canít read. Just use PDFs.

Profile 2: Advanced Public Speaking Institute Sells $30-50K Month

Tom Antion of the Advanced Public Speaking Institute was typical of many publishers in the '90s. He put up a Web site because it was the thing to do in 1997, and promptly forgot about it. In late 1998, he checked on the site's stats out of idle curiosity.

"I found that only 400 people had visited my site in the past two years." Ouch.

Spurred into action, Antion read everything he could get his hands on about what worked in online marketing. In January 1999 he launched an email newsletter, sending it to about 1,500 names he'd collected with (explicit) permission from attendees at speeches he'd given. His first issue included a brief ad for his new eBook, "Wake 'Em Up", as well as plugging his services as a trainer.

The results were stunning. "The first week I put out the ezine it brought in about $5000. There were three new consulting clients and the rest was in product sales."

Antion quickly added videos, audiotapes, CD ROMs and more ebooks to his online store. Then he focused on raising sales by growing the newsletter's opt-in readership, and by driving more traffic directly to the site itself. He notes, "I was making every possible beginner mistake. I had the sign up form on just one place on my home page. It should be on every possible place where they come to your site. That alone started adding subscriptions."

Antion knew his best product sales prospects would be people who were attracted to his site's content. So he worked day and night over a three day holiday weekend posting a blitzkrieg of more than 150 short articles he'd written, such as "Humor for Speakers" and "Banquet/Luncheon Tips", as separate, very-simple, hand-created HTML pages of his site.

The important thing to note here is 'hand-created HTML.' The biggest mistake most content-rich sites do is use content management databases that dynamically create pages on demand as visitors move through sites. In 1999 most important search engines totally ignored dynamically created pages (in 2002 many still do -- and all ignore frames.) Antion also stayed away from the automatic template page-creation programs, such as Web Position Gold, because search engines have begun banning sites that use them.

The newly enriched site quickly beat much larger media organizations to become one of the highest ranked sites in the public speaking niche. Since approximately 85% of Web surfers locate the content they're seeking by using search engines, this meant the site quickly gained a steady stream of highly interested traffic without any further marketing initiatives whatsoever.

Currently Antion has more than 1,000 hand-created HTML pages collecting hits online. They are very simply designed, with no bells and whistles, beyond links to the store and opt-in boxes. Every month these 1,000+ pages attract an average of 4,000 unique visitors in total. More than 100,000 visitors have opted in to receive the email newsletter. Resulting product sales average $30,000-$50,000 a month.

Institute home page

Sample Issues of 'Great Speaking Electronic Magazine'

Profile 3: Internet Tourbus Blows Away Archived Issues Sales Goal

Bob Rankin, Publisher of Internet Tourbus, a site bringing news about search engines, spam, viruses and urban Net legends, also saw his ad sales revenues decrease in 2001, despite adding guerilla wit like "Click here or we must eat Ramen noodles" under sponsors' banners.

He says, "Ad sales dropped to a fraction of what they were in the good old days."

By late December he was "desperate for last minute ideas to increase my 2001 income tax burden", so he decided to test offering his newsletter archives on a CD-ROM. All six years of archives were free online, so first he yanked everything but the past two months of content from the publicly available site. But Rankin still worried about how folks would take being asked to pay for something they'd previously gotten for free.

Nevertheless, he says, "I figured even with a lot of people away from their in-box due to the holidays, I could sell 100 copies at $24.99 by year end."

Rankin whipped up a "low key" marketing campaign including a note in his email newsletter. He explains, "I reminded readers of popular topics we've covered in the past:

> I'm sure you'll agree that the Tourbus Archives will be a
> valuable tool when you have questions about Search Engines,
> Viruses, dealing with Spam, or your online Privacy and
> Security.

"I threw in a few Happy Reader Testimonials, and told new subscribers what they've been missing:

> ...over 600 issues filled with advice, tips and tricks, served
> with a healthy dose of offbeat humor."

He also added a very large pop-under to his site with similar elements (testimonials, etc.) that launches behind the site when visitors first arrive. When they close their browser window, then they see this huge thing lurking there hoping to sell them. (We suspect some viewers are so relieved to see a pop-under that's not another pitch for a spy-camera or casino site, that they give it a little extra attention.)

During the last week in December, which is a notably bad week for any site selling anything besides hangover remedies, Rankin blew his 100 copy sales goal out of the water by more than double. And interestingly, not a single person complained about the archives not being free any more.

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