Is a Free Book the Answer When It Comes to Lead Generation?

Books and ebookI’m working for several marketers whose campaigns are centered on the offer of a free book. But in an age where it seems everyone is publishing a book, is a free book still an effective offer? In my opinion and experience, yes. Let me share with you why.

It’s All About the Perceived Value
While the proliferation of PDF e-books and Kindle e-books has challenged the traditional book publishing industry, a book still has a perceived value that many other lead magnets do not.

For instance, marketers all know that the price tag of whitepapers is zero, and people tend to value free advice according to what they paid for it — nothing. I actually don’t believe that free whitepapers and special reports have no value, but they do have a perceived low value.

A book, by comparison, can sell for anywhere from $10 to $40, or more. So when you offer prospects a free book, they grab it because people like getting something of value for free.

My colleague, Jeffrey Lant, famously said that “A book is a brochure that will never be thrown away.” People click away whitepapers and file sales brochures without a second thought. But they have a harder time tossing a nicely produced book in the trash, because they hesitate to throw away something of value.

Also, despite the explosive increase in the number of print books and e-books, being a book author gives you a certain cache that a whitepaper or technical paper does not. But which is better: a PDF e-book, a Kindle e-book, or a paperbound book? Each has its pros and cons.

The Players and Their Strategies
PDF e-books can be short and hone in on very narrow topics. So when you offer them in emails, banner ads, and other promotions, you can get a significant number of downloads and inquiries. The request for the book is fulfilled right away, so prospects don’t wait for their content.

The strategy that works best with Kindle e-books is to have a lot of short documents, put book covers on them, and offer them through Amazon either for a modest price or for free. When a prospect searches your name on Amazon, it looks like you have written a ton of books, which impresses them. They don’t stop to realize that many of these are just a few pages in length each.

The advantage of a paperbound book is that it is a physical object you can hold. Of the three options — PDF, Kindle, paperbound — a physical book is the most impressive and prestigious, and has the most impact. When you send prospects a paperbound book, they see you as a “real author,” which helps establish you as an expert in their eyes.

Back in the days when electronic data interchange (EDI) was a significant technology, a major bank hired an EDI consultant to write a short paperback book on how to get ready for EDI.

The bank prominently featured an image of the book in its print ads with the headline, “Electronic data interchange from the folks who wrote the book on EDI.”

All else being equal, customers like to hire the vendor who wrote a book on the service or technology. Publisher Edward Uhland observed, “Just because a person wrote a book, people assume he or she is an expert on the topic.” The author may in fact not be a top expert on the subject, but because she wrote a book, people perceive that she is.

The Good and the Bad of a Free Physical Book
Now, here’s the drawback of offering a book as a lead magnet in your marketing: When you run an online ad or send an email promoting the book rather than your product or service, you will increase the gross response to your marketing, often doubling or even tripling the number of inquiries generated.

Bob Bly is a freelance copywriter who has written copy for more than 100 clients including IBM, AT&T, Praxair, Intuit, Forbes, and Ingersoll-Rand. McGraw-Hill calls Bob “America’s top copywriter” and he is the author of 90 books, including “The Copywriter's Handbook.” Find him online at or call (973) 263-0562.