Free Content and Email Marketing

Gaining access to free content is easier than ever before because of the proliferation of online media. From DIY YouTube videos to a multitude of blogs, the content available is unprecedented. Advice and help that people needed to pay for before is now readily available for free online for anyone with an internet connection. The internet has also changed the way authors interact and create books. With the creation of Creative Commons licenses, being able to freely share content with everyone is also much easier now. With the advent of creative commons licensing authors have the ability to share their work online for free. While this sounds ideal for the reader, it begs the question how can authors make a living out of free content? There are several different business models authors can choose, but I’m going to focus on the power of advertising, specifically that’s enabled by email marketing. Email marketing consists of the accumulation of a list of emails of people have have agreed to receive regular updates from a particular website (Thompson, 2011). Although email marketing is a specific action, I’m going to be using it as more of an umbrella term that is going to encompass several other actions as well that let authors make money. This will include premium content, affiliate marketing, and selling ad space. Because all of these actions are ultimately driven by email marketing, I am going to be discussing it specifically.

Email marketing consists of building a list of subscribers that willingly want to receive updates about the author’s content (Thompson, 2011). Through the email the author can send out regular updates about their book, or any other relevant information. It is also a direct link, a way to speak directly to each individual reader through the email inbox (Jarrett, 2013). To begin email marketing Frances Caballo offers a list of steps for authors to take: 1) sing up for an email application, 2) offer a hook for people to sign up, 3) send content readers will appreciate on a regular basis (2015). Email applications, such as AWeber, make it easier for authors to create opt-in email services and continually stay in touch with their subscribers (AWeber, n.d.). This makes it easier to manage the emails, and the application allows authors to more easily understand and navigate who is interested in their work. The hook for an author would be the rest of the book or chapter. On their website the author would provide a chapter or two that anyone can read. However, if the reader is interested and wants to gain access to the whole of the book, they need to subscribe to the email. For this kind of system to work, I believe that the author cannot release the whole book at once to the readers. Instead, a system where either a chapter or a certain section of the book will be released to the audience every week or within some other consistent time frame would work better. By getting regular updates, readers receive content they are interested in without losing interest in the work and then unsubscribing. In a way, this already happens on websites like, where the authors of fan based work update their stories by chapter and those interested get an email notification that the story has been updated. It can take years before a story is completed, but if the updates are regular, the readers stay loyal. And loyalty is crucial for this system to work, because the larger the audience and the email list, the more money the author can then make (Thompson, 2011).

Once the author has an email list, several things can happen. First, because those subscribed to the email notification are a loyal fan base, the author can attempt to sell their other products to people who are most likely to be interested. This could mean a print book, special art, an event, or exclusive content that no one without paying will be able to receive. However, these products have to be relevant, something that readers will appreciate, because otherwise it might lead to them unsubscribing (Johnston, 2013). Another thing that can be done with an email list is to rent it out. An author can give out their list to “companies looking to promote their products to [the author’s] audience,” (Johnston, 2013, para. 10). The same concern as with promoting the author’s own products can arise; the companies must be in some way related, tailored that the readers will enjoy the product rather than become dissatisfied and unsubscribe. Affiliate marketing, which is similar to renting out your list, and works pretty well to generate money. It is an often used technique by bloggers and works best when it is paired up with email marketing (Thompson, 2011). What it comes down to is making commission from promoting other products (Dunlop, n.d.). This can be done on the website, but would work better with email as it gives direct access to people. Once again, caution is needed, because too many sales pitches can drive people away. Finally, selling ad space on the author’s website can also drive revenue (Dunlop, n.d.). Having an email list will force interested readers to come back to the website again and again, which will increase exposure to the website and to the ads that are found on that website. It is possible to make a lot of money from email marketing, specifically because other forms of revenue and marketing can then be utilized by the author.

Such a system has a lot of potential. First of all most websites – including blogs – operate in such a way, or at least make money using this system (Dunlop, n.d.). Despite the rise of other social media platforms, email is still an extremely powerful tool as it is “considered the most important business tool” by many people (Caballo, 2015, para. 7). Authors frequently use their websites, blogs, and emails to engage with their readers, it therefore makes sense that it is possible to profit from the tools that are already being used. Based on the system I outlined, it would essentially make authors into bloggers. However, this would change the publishing landscape as this system is really only viable for online self-publishing. In fact, it could even be argued that publishing houses would no longer have a role to play at all, as the authors themselves will have to deal with all of the aspects usually done by a publisher, such as marketing, editing, designing, distributing, promoting, etc. In other words, most aspects of publishing would be done online and only by one person, instead of a team of professionals. More than that though, one of the risks of this sort of publishing is gaining a large enough audience base. I already mentioned that the larger the audience, the more money the author is likely to make, but generating the necessary traffic is difficult and would require a lot of exposure. If more and more authors move onto the online world and begin publishing the way I have described, it will be harder and harder for authors to make their work stand out. This would also cause problems for the reader. People already are overwhelmed by too much information, and have to sort it from what is useful and what isn’t. The same problem would occur if every author had their own website creating their own books; finding one that an individual would really like would be difficult. So on the one hand, the reader will have access to a lot of free content, but they would also have a harder time finding good content. Nevertheless, it is a possible direction for some authors to move into.



About AWeber. (n.d.). AWeber. Retrieved from

Caballo, F. (2015, February 10). Email Marketing For Authors – A Powerful Tool. Magnolia Media Network. Retrieved from

Dunlop, M. (n.d.). 14 Ways To Actually Make Money From a Website! Income Diary. Retrieved from

Jarrett, J. (2013, January 13). 29 Ways to Make Money Online for Free Ebook. Retrieved from

Johnston, M. (2013, April 30). How to Monetize, Rent, or Sell Email Addresses (Legally). Monetize Pros. Retrieved from 

Thompson, M. (2011, March 30). How Bloggers Who Provide Free Content Make Money. Search Engine Journal. Retrieved from


  1. The topic of this paper was definitely different from the topics that I’ve seen on the course website. It shows that the author has taken the time to really think about what to write and have an idea that is unique – so great job! The introduction starts with a general description of the creative common license and how information nowadays is available online. I like the fact that the author included a question in the introduction, because it allows the readers to think and it lets them know that the author will be answering the question in the essay. Furthermore, I really like that the author outlined what they are going to be talking about in the introduction. Something that I thought could be improved was to start introducing the topic a bit earlier.
    In the second paragraph, the author begins to introduce the concept of email marketing, which is really helpful. I like the fact that the author numbered the steps on how to start an email marketing campaign, which makes it easier to read. I felt the following information about serializing an author’s work could have had more research to reference. I was not sure if the ideas were the author’s opinion or Thompson’s due the lack of reference. I felt the argument could have been stronger if more sources had the same opinion as the author’s. In addition, I thought the author could have talked about the downside of serializing a book as well. Especially when the author mentioned that a book could take a year to finish. As a reader, I would be really frustrated to read only one chapter every week or worse every month. I would forget what happened in the previous chapter and have to read it all over again, which is time consuming. The thought of having each chapter ending in a cliffhanger already gives me the chills. For someone to read a book in a series means they must be really patient, especially in an age where we want everything now.
    The third paragraph starts with the explanation about how the author could make money using the email marketing. I really like the first few statements because the information was straight to the point. The author goes on to talk about how the content should be relevant in order to prevent readers from unsubscribing. I thought the author could have explained it more or give examples. Does the product have to be only relevant to the book that is being released or could it be from previous books that the author wrote or can it be products to promote the author themselves?
    Finally, for the last paragraph the author talked about the downside of the email marketing business plan, which is great. Talking about two perspectives of the model makes it more realistic because nothing is perfect. Overall the paper was a great read. It was easy to follow, the information was straightforward and the paper had a lot of strong ideas.

  2. This essay is rather unfocused. It starts with the idea of email marketing, but then throws three other marketing terms that it supposedly is also speaking about indirectly, and then it turns to serialized content, and subsequently blogs. While all of these are naturally related (the author does connect them) they are not the same thing. Speaking about them without making their relationship explicit, and doing so without talking about the likelihood of this model taking hold, or the segments in which it might, makes it a difficult piece to get one’s head around.

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