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 fanfiction.net, 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 http://www.aweber.com/about.htm
Caballo, F. (2015, February 10). Email Marketing For Authors – A Powerful Tool. Magnolia Media Network. Retrieved from http://www.magnoliamedianetwork.com/email-marketing-for-authors/
Dunlop, M. (n.d.). 14 Ways To Actually Make Money From a Website! Income Diary. Retrieved from http://www.incomediary.com/ways-to-make-money-from-website
Jarrett, J. (2013, January 13). 29 Ways to Make Money Online for Free Ebook. Retrieved from http://www.slideshare.net/jingerjarrett/29-ways-to-make-money-online-for-free-ebook
Johnston, M. (2013, April 30). How to Monetize, Rent, or Sell Email Addresses (Legally). Monetize Pros. Retrieved from http://monetizepros.com/email-monetization/five-ways-to-make-money-off-email-addresses/
Thompson, M. (2011, March 30). How Bloggers Who Provide Free Content Make Money. Search Engine Journal. Retrieved from http://www.searchenginejournal.com/how-bloggers-who-provide-free-content-make-money/28815/