How eBook creators can be inspired by other digital business models

May 24 2018

“What we can state today, at the current tipping point in the digital transition between the first and the second decade of the ebook, is probably simple: Digital opens the boxes around the book.“Global eBook Report

The first decade of eBooks is over! It has been a very classical one. Publishers built, shipped and thought eBooks very much like they had done it for classical printed books before. But the next decade will have a real digital flavor. And it can be inspired by other digital products – Software Solutions. Let’s have a look how the creation of Software products evolved over the last few decades.

Digital Products 1.0 – Big Upfront, Shipping in Boxes and Broadcast Marketing

Back in the 80s and 90s the creation process for a Software product was pretty simple (the process is inspired by a talk of Jeff Patton):

  1. A company or a team had a great idea.
  2. They built the whole product with a maximum feature set, pressed it on CDs or diskettes and shipped it to their customers packed in boxes.
  3. Their customers used the software product, loved it and told others about the GREAT product. It is not possible to be successful without having these product ambassadors (loving customers).
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The marketing approach for these digital products was very loud, very broad and widespread. True to the motto: If you target as much people as possible the right people will be in the audience as well.

Around the late 90s this approach started to fail more often. The main problem was that the initial idea had to be right and companies and teams had to read the minds of their customers in order to build the right product. If they failed, their customers used the product for a short time but they did not love it and so they did not tell others to use it. In the late 90s companies realized the downside of their current process. They tried to address the main risk – not having a completely right idea upfront – by Beta Programs:

  1. A company or a team had a great idea.
  2. They built nearly a complete product with a maximum feature set and delivered it to a group of consumers (Beta customers).
  3. Beta customers returned their feedback about the product’s Beta Version.
  4. The team built the final product based on the Beta customers’ feedback (which in most of the times were no ground-breaking changes), pressed it on CDs or diskettes and shipped it to their customers packed in boxes.
  5. Their customers used the software product, loved it and told others about the GREAT product.
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The problem was as well, if your idea just failed and your beta group told you that your idea is just “crap” and they didn’t use it, you wasted a lot of money. The product idea and features had to be nearly perfect in the beginning.

After the Millenium – Digital products 2.0 are created and refined in a continuous way

Around 2000 Internet products became more and more popular. So a new approach for building digital products did. This approach was described and inspired by books like “The Lean Startup” from Eric Ries or “Getting real” from David Heinemeier Hansson. The main concepts are validated learning, minimal viable products and prototypes.

A linear process turned into a continuous cycle:

  1. A company or team creates an initial product idea.
  2. They derive the main hypotheses from that idea (about their customers, the problems of their customers, …)
  3. They choose one hypothesis and build the minimal product to test it (“What is the smallest thing we could do or build to test that hypothesis?”) and deliver it to their customers via Internet (without Boxes).
  4. They measure if the customers use it, love it and tell others – in other words proof the initial hypothesis.
  5. They proceed to step 1.
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To memorize: The main difference between the former approaches and the new approach is having a continuous cycle of creating hypothesis, building a bit of digital products and checking it. That’s the “Build, Measure, Learn” cycle you may know from Lean Startup.

This new approach not just changes the way we build Software products. It changes the way we ship them, too. It disposes the boxes: Products and enhancements are continuously shipped to customers via Internet.

Also, the way marketing looks like changes for this approach. There is no broadcasting anymore. Product creators define a sharp target audience and try to reach them by using selected channels and very targeted messages. Digital eBook products 2.0 – Applying modern digital product creation approaches to eBooks But what do Software products and eBooks have in common? Currently, most of the eBooks are created based on an approach, like Software creators used it in the (late) 90s:

  1. An author or a publisher has an idea for an eBook.
  2. They create a complete first version of the book, convert it to an ePub and publish it.
  3. Hopefully their readers read it, love it and tell others about it.

This approach has the same weaknesses for books as it had for Software products. The initial idea has to be fully correct (or nearly correct) in the very beginning. Therefore it just makes sense to adopt the current approach to build digital products.

How it can look like is described in David Gaughran’s book “Strangers to Superfans”. He describes how to shape your audience and define your “Ideal Reader” (aka “Buyer Persona” in Online Marketing words).

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Also, his book contains a drill-down into our step of “read, love, tell others”. He defines a Reader Journey – separated in five steps (see figure above).

How would this Reader Journey look like in a real example?

Example: A real digital business book product

Let’s assume we are a publisher of business books. One of our titles covers “all” aspects of Online Marketing (“Online Marketing Bible”). The book includes chapters for “SEA”, “SEO”, “CRM Marketing” and so on. Our online shop offers the whole eBook for 69,99 €. In the past, we tried to sell our books in a very classical way (“1.0”). Now, we will try something new …


Peter is a marketing guy and works in a little firm (“Ideal Reader”). He is very skilled about every online marketing tooling he used in the past. But now he is interested in CRM Marketing for addressing new customers. He has never done CRM Marketing before and now tries to learn how to set it up. Peters first approach is to open Google and to type in: Marketing CRM. He hopes to find at least some Blog posts. Now we have his attention about this topic. We will try to keep it as long as possible and will offer him information that exceed his expectations.

sgrolio Suche 03


The first search result is a Google AdWords Ad, which appeared because of the keywords he typed in and it could be a good resource for him. He expected to find a good Blog Post or something similar. A business book seems more valuable to him and exceeds his expectations. Peter clicks on the Ad and expects to see the book’s product detail page.

sgrolio Adwords Anzeige 02

Consideration and Purchase

We can exceed Peter’s expectation again. He is not redirected to a product detail page on our online shop but to the real book. He knows the “Search Inside” function from common online book shops. At first it seems to be something similar. But it is better than that. Most of the “Search Inside” previews show parts of a business book Peter is not interested in (like: “Title Page”, “Dedication”, “Table of Contents”, “Foreword” or “About the Authors”). This “Search Inside” starts directly within the chapter about “CRM Marketing”. We exceeded his expectations again! It is very difficult to decide if the business book fits his needs based on a product detail page or a standard kind of “Search Inside”. It is much easier based on content that matches his Google keywords.

sgrolio Fachbuhartikel

But after all, it is not a complete free chapter of the book. It is a reading sample for this specific chapter. Maybe it is the first page or half of the first page. Peter can evaluate if the content is valuable for him. For him, it fits perfectly well. He wants to read the whole chapter. As he is already a skilled professional in Online Marketing, he does not want to buy the whole “Online Marketing Bible” though. At least 70 € for just one interesting chapter is pretty expensive! So we offer him just to buy the chapter “CRM Marketing” for 6,99 €. He just clicks a “Read more?”-button, enters his credit card data and continuous reading.


According to “Strangers to Superfans” the story is not over now. Does Peter finish the read? Does he read, love and tell others? Which AdWords campaigns attract the readers who buy and finish the chapter or book? Do refinements in the chapter’s content have any effect on its attractiveness or Read Through Rate?

Dashboard OnlineMarketingBible

Therefore, we need continuous Reader Analytics. Continuous in a manner that publishers can build and refine their content continuously (e.g. check with new chapters) and measure their reader’s reaction. Continuous Reader Analytics is having something like Google Analytics for books. It should tell you at every part of the time how the content is being used, but on a statistical level and not on a personal profiling level.

Building a real digital business book product with

To have a seamless integration with tools like Google AdWords is a crucial requirement for the Reader Journey described earlier:

  • Browser Reading: In order to catch attention as long as you can, you have to deliver your eBooks directly to the Browser in a secure way. On Desktop PCs as well as on Tablets and Smartphones – “Every book has a public Web address!”
  • Chunked Content Delivery: Peter jumps directly into the right chapter. Therefore, it is necessary to “unleash eBooks” and have different chuck sizes for delivery (and payment) – “Every Chapter or Section has a public Web address!”
  • Dynamic Content: We try to minimize drop-offs from the reading sample by using some kind of “Expandable Reading Sample”. An eBook delivery platform has to support this way of dynamic content. – “Content is not static anymore!”
  • Continuous Reader Analytics: A toolset that aggregates all reader interactions with the eBook. – “How is the book used by readers?” covers all the topics listed above. It is …

  • Browser Reading: The eBook is streamed to the Browser like in common Music Streaming services. As the Browser buffers only a small piece of content, it is much harder to just download books. The Web Reader component allows you to address content through a simple Web address. It is completely responsive. Mobile First eBook business models have never been so easy!
  • Chunked Content Delivery: Ingested content can be segmented into snippets of various sizes (paragraphs, pages, chapters, …). You can just ship parts of the book instead of the whole book.
  • Dynamic Content: Content can be enriched during delivery. So it is easy to build features like “Expanding Reading Samples”, dynamic advertisement or reader feedback features.
  • Continuous Reader Analytics: offers something like Google Analytics for books – our reader analytics dashboard. You can analyze your reader’s behavior in a continuous way. At which time of the day do readers read the most (“Pages read per hour”)? Which pages do they read the most (“Heatmap”)?
heatmap pagesReadPerHour


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