Thinking About an E-Book? Read This First
On the face of it, e-books are a cost-effective alternative to traditional book publishing that can help drive membership engagement, generate non-dues revenue, and enhance your advocacy efforts.
But be warned, they can be hit-or-miss.
First, let’s start with the good. As an advocacy tool, e-books (and include white papers, reports, and any other substantial downloads here) have some advantages.
Here’s just a few ways:
- They can be packaged as primers and handed out at trade shows and to media to ensure influential industry reporters and potential customers have your information at their fingertips.
- They can provide an efficient way to build your email list, if you’re offering them to non-members in exchange for their details, or a small fee.
- If you are charging a fee, there’s the potential for non-dues revenue. But be warned, e-books are not particularly lucrative.
- They offer the possibility of creating something in tandem with government regulators and other supervisory or certification officials, in your industry, leading to the opportunity to optimize your organization’s relationships with those it must often contend with.
- They can be published piecemeal, chapter-by-chapter, encouraging commentary and insightful feedback from members.
- Good e-books can identify, or brand your organization as an authority in its field, and as a strong advocate for members, specifically geared to address issues and concerns critical to them. That stature will make it easier to recruit new members.
- With the time from idea to publication shortened, promoting your e-book in response to developments in the field becomes quicker, more agile, and more up-to-date, having a significant impact on membership and your status as a “go-to” center of excellence.
- E-books can be effective when developing a “nurturing campaign” between an organization’s headquarters and subsidiary grassroots chapters.
- Lastly, e-books can be used as free enticements for recruiting new members, encouraging existing members to re-enroll, or even in developing relationships with affiliate associations to build alliances.
So You’re Sold? Not So Fast …
The best way to make the most of any foray into digital publishing is to begin with the basics, as you would if your organization was considering printing a hardcover book to engage, educate, and evoke action from members, or future members.
“The key in doing any publishing endeavor is you must have a good manuscript,” says Brian Clark, executive director of the Kentucky Petroleum Marketers Association (KPMA), which represents 158 member companies that supply gasoline to more than 3,000 convenience stores service stations, truck stops and marinas. “Content is absolutely the king.”
Selecting the Right Topics
Clark says most membership organizations are already “great aggregators and packagers of content,” but many don’t ascertain what, exactly, their constituents want, or the format of information they need.
“It’s really all about meeting a need, and reacting quickly,” he says.
The same general rules with all content applies to e-book publishing. Know thy audience.
Identifying What They Want?
Social media and surveys present a new school versus old school way to find out says Roseward Sky, a marketing consultant and writer with Boothbuzz.org.
“The most reliable way to assess the information needs and interests of constituents is to ask. All communication via social media, Facebook, LinkedIn, blogging, should be accompanied by the question: ‘What other topics would you like to see addressed?’ Social media is inherently a two-way communication and this is a golden opportunity for advocacy organizations to assess the concerns and interests of constituents.”
Sky suggests asking yourself questions too, when sifting through social media, such as what topics get the most buzz, are there themes running through responses, and what articles get most frequently shared?
“You have to be nimble in making the most of the responses you get, and be dedicated to monitoring and encouraging social media engagement – but the payoff is worth it.
Old School Still Rules
Andrew Calhoun, director of membership services for the Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA), says surveys can be effective, too. ISACA uses feedback gleaned from surveying its 140,000 members in 180 countries. They develop e-books that can quickly provide performance-based certification and networking, and professional training and education, in the ever-evolving field of cyber security.
“Every year we ask members to define what value they get from membership,” he says. “Digital publications are an important part of that value.
By constantly assessing members’ evolving needs in a fast-moving field, ISACA’s Cybersecurity (CSX) Nexus certification program ensures its status as “the only organization in the world that provides a single, comprehensive source for cyber security training and certification services,” Calhoun says.
For ISACA, e-book flexibility is pivotal to serving the individual needs of a diverse membership that spans the globe, and has different disciplines in the electronics, auditing and insurance professions.
The e-books in the CSX Nexus “allows us to address particular needs, provide different certifications, different levels of participation, and has opened the doors to different programs,” Calhoun says.
“When a person gets one certification, (ISACA) has demonstrated its practical application. Our membership is driven by the need to have these certifications.”
The value ISACA offers its members is reflected in the same surveys it uses to anticipate and respond to their needs, Calhoun said. “We ask them to compare us to other membership organizations, and ask, ‘How do we rate?’ We rank at the top.”
Researching the Market
Before putting fingers to keyboards, Clark says you must research similar e-book and digital products published by other competitors.
E-books sales are generally low, he says, noting the market is growing, but is not yet a stand-alone publishing option.
“They are not for everyone. There are different types of learners. Some need a book, some need a class, but because it is so affordable to convert books to e-books, most publishers use it as an additional option for customers.”
That’s something Sky seconds. “The savings you realize by skipping printing costs are there, but as importantly, e-book publishing is nimble. You can quickly take advantage of opportunities to meet the needs of your constituents. Between the cost savings and agility, it’s easier to maintain a publishing program … which can have a major impact on the all-important goal of member engagement.”
To research, Sky suggests scanning Amazon reviews of similar products, to uncover insight into what’s missing in the market. Discussion on Internet forums also alert you to opportunities for information products, or even clue you in to important voices making waves in a particular field – authors you might eventually bring into your publishing program.
Sky also recommends setting ‘Google Alerts’ for news, and searching Google Scholar for academic papers to translate into more accessible media.
Repurpose With a Purpose
Once you’ve got your book in place, or even before it’s launched, you can start your marketing and repurposing efforts.
Post snippets and excerpts on Facebook and Twitter with links, while longer passages – chapters or sections – can find a home in a LinkedIn post.
Parts can be shared or embedded into blogs on your organization’s website, too, Clark says.
“I am format agnostic,” he says. “Leverage content not only on social platforms but on your website. Repurpose it in as many channels as possible – newsletters, emails, DVDs in a desk reference book. Make parts downloadable or viewable in a blog. You can repurpose content for specific audiences, then introduce it with something more personal.”
Print on demand (POD) can also be an efficient option for allowing members to pick and choose what they want to extract from an e-book, Clark says.