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Darren Rowse | Problogger and Digital Photography School


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Case Study:

What do you think is the biggest difference in the ebook publishing industry between now and when you first started experimenting with ebooks? How does that affect your strategy when writing and publishing ebooks today?
I launched my first two ebooks in 2009 — 31 Days to Build a Better Blog in September and The Essential Guide to Portrait Photography (no longer available) in November.

Probably the biggest change I’ve noticed since that time is the resistance to people wanting to and being able to read books in an ebook format has almost disappeared.

In 2009 when I launched our Portraits ebook I was inundated with questions about what an ebook was and how to read it. The other most common question was ‘can I get it as a hard cover book’?

While we still get these questions – they’re in much smaller numbers.

This general acceptance of ebook as a legitimate format for publishing has only encouraged me to continue to publish ebooks and to increase our frequency of releasing them.

31 Days to a Better Blog was one of your early product releases, but it continues to be a popular ebook today. How many times have you updated that ebook? Do you work to keep sales up, or is simply promoting it on your site enough because of the popularity of Problogger in general?
31DBBB was a unique ebook because when I wrote the bulk of it I did so with no intention of it ever being produced as an ebook. It was originally a series of blog posts that I put together in August of 2005.

The series was so successful I repeated it in 2007, 2008 and 2009. Each time I ran it I saw traffic to my blog in larger numbers than I’d ever seen it before so a lot of my readers were familiar with the idea of 31DBBB before I ever turned it into an ebook.

At the end of the 2009 series readers asked if I could turn it into an ebook because they wanted to do the series again and again at their own pace. I was skeptical about the idea of publishing an ebook with repurposed material but did it anyway. I added a little new content into the ebook version but it was 85% what was on the blog.

The ebook sold thousands of copies very quickly!

Sales came fast when I launched it but continued to be a steady daily seller – largely off traffic that comes to ProBlogger each day.

I have run annual sales on the ebook where I discount it once a year (and these have driven good sales too) and I mention it in blog posts and on social media from time to time.

The other source of sales was unexpected – I saw numerous groups of bloggers take the 31DBBB challenge together. At one point a group of craft bloggers went through the course, another time a large group of parenting bloggers from a forum did it and another time an industry association did it. Each time this has happened we’ve seen great sales of the ebook.

In 2011 I realised that there were a number of days in the ebook that were getting a little dated and tired and my team and I began to plan a 2nd edition. This edition saw us replace 7 of the older days with new ones (you still get the old ones in a separate ebook) and give the rest of the ebook a complete overhaul (there’s a lot of new stuff in there).

This helped with sales but was more to make the ebook more useful.

eBooks on both of your sites are priced between $20-$40. How did you decide on a higher pricing strategy, and what do you think are the pros and cons of high versus low pricing? Do you think the niches you've chosen – pro-blogging and digital photography – naturally lend themselves to higher priced ebooks?
I wish I had a great answer to this except to say that when my readers first suggested I turn 31DBBB into an ebook I asked them how much they would pay. The answer was $20-$30.

I took their advice and started in that range and the ebook sold really well.

On my photography site I surveyed readers not about what they would pay for an ebook but about what they spent elsewhere on their photography. What I found is that many of our readers would regularly spend $15-$20 on photography magazines. This gave me a hint that many would probably pay that much for an ebook.

$30 is a fair bit for an ebook in a time when people are selling them for $0.99 – but I believe in the quality of our ebooks.

They all provide useful, actionable information that solve problems that people have and as a result they are valuable. They tend to also be fairly much packed with content – we don’t pad with images and some of our ebooks are 150 or so pages long (and others come with bonus information in bundles).

Lastly – these days I also have a team who works hard on producing any ebook we release for up to 6 months before they come out. I employ a producer who manages the team, we have designers, authors, editors, proof readers, someone who helps with marketing and a customer support team. They bring considerable time and effort into the production of our ebooks.

I’m not sure there’s a magical number for an ideally priced ebook but we tend to go at the premium end of things both in terms of what we try to produce as well as price.

Along a similar vein, your ebooks are only available as PDF downloads, not through popular sites such as Amazon and B&N. Is that decision based on the pricing structure, or are there other factors at play?
There are a number of factors and these may change.

My first ebooks were only ever PDFs and they did well.

We found a lot of our readers were reading our PDFs on their iPads and Kindles anyway.

Our photography ebooks are image rich so didn’t look any good on the original kindles.

Pricing is an issue – Amazon is full of cheap (and sometimes nasty) ebooks that are free or 0.99. We did go to the effort of producing one of our photography ebooks in other formats but were not willing to discount it so drastically – as a result while it is reviewed as being a great book it doesn’t sell well because other ebooks on the topic are so much cheaper (even though ours is of a better quality).

We will continue to play and experiment in this space though. We’ve since released a site called on which we’ll produce shorter and cheaper photography ebooks so these may do better on places like Amazon.

Is there anything else you think writers entering the ebook publishing world today should keep in mind?
Having published 20 ebooks in the last 4 years I would say that the best selling ones all solve a felt need that people have. They promise and deliver a tangible outcome.

Sometimes when you’re brainstorming with authors on topics to write an ebook about you come up with topics that you think your readers need to know about… but unless your readers really feel a need in that area then it is harder to sell them your ebook.

Let me illustrate with a tale of two ebooks:

A couple of years ago we released an ebook called Transcending Travel ( (an ebook about Travel Photography). The ebook was by a first time author for us was on a topic we thought would do well because Travel Photography blog posts on the blog tended to go well.

We were right – the ebook sold really well (one of the best ebooks we’d ever done to that point) and we immediately began to talk to the author about doing a second ebook with us.

The topic of his second ebook was ‘Color’ (it was called Captivating Color – Color is a really important topic in photography and is something that can make or break a photo so it made sense to us that it would do well.

We launched the ebook in an almost identical way to the Travel ebook. Same types of sales emails and sales page. We had the same author. The covers and title were comparable.

The Color ebook didn’t flop – but it didn’t perform nearly as well as Transcending Travel. We were puzzled by the result and tried a number of things during its launch to rectify the lower sales but in the end could only really identify one factor to explain its poorer performance – the topic didn’t solve a ‘felt need’ of our readers or promise them a tangible outcome.

Transcending Travel promised better travel photos. Captivating Color promised better use of colors in photos – a more wishy washy promise despite it being important.

We’ve since learned to ask questions about how we’ll market our ebooks before we even write them. I used to put my marketing hat on when I’d written an ebook – now our team talks about how we’ll market the ebook at the point of choosing the topic.

This way the author can develop something that is not only useful – but something that we will be able to sell.

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