There's a good reason marketing consultant David Meerman Scott calls e-books the “stylish younger sister to the nerdy white paper.”
According to Scott, author of the best-selling “The New Rules of Marketing and PR” (John Wiley & Sons, 2007), e-books can be more graphically interesting, more fun and conversational—that is, with greater viral potential via social channels— than traditional white papers.
Those who follow the publishing world have probably read that e-books now comprise about 30% of total adult fiction book sales and 15% of net revenue for all publishers, according to the Association of American Publishers
But there's a difference between the kind of e-books that are giving publishers headaches and the product that marketers are creating.
According to Scott, the best marketing e-books are always free (and offered without a registration requirement under a Creative Commons license) and are produced as PDFs instead of EPUB or Mobi files used for tablets. This makes it easier for marketers to share e-books rather than limit readership to users of a particular platform.
“I like using PDFs because they are typically the simplest to create and share, especially if you're writing your book on a do-it-yourself shoestring budget and have limited technical skills,” said Nick Stamoulis, president of Boston-based search marketing company Brick Marketing. “Other formats like EPUB and Mobi might be better if you intend to self-publish on sites like Amazon.com or expect a lot of people to read your e-book on an e-reader like the Nook or Kindle.”
PDFs also allow for more complicated, interesting designs, said Stephanie Tilton of content marketing company Ten Ton Marketing.
“Think of an e-book as an educational white paper written in a conversational tone and turned on its side,” Tilton said. “The best e-books marry valuable information with strong design and graphics that help tell the story.”
In fact, graphics and design are integral to the success of e-books, which tend to be longer than white papers. According to Tilton, about 65% of people are visual learners, so she recommends designing e-books in a modular format with plenty of graphics, call-outs, subheads and other visual elements.
“They can even incorporate interactive content, including embedded video,” she said.
As with any piece of content marketing, simply completing and formatting an e-book isn't enough. You need to get it out there and “promote it like crazy,” Scott said.
“Offer it on your website with easy-to-find links,” he said. “If you have a blog, write about it there. Tweet it. Add a link to your email. Get partners to offer links. Alert bloggers, analysts and members of the mainstream media that the e-book is available, and send them a download link—but not the whole PDF.”
Most marketers expect an e-book to cost about the same as a long, complicated white paper—although because of its length, it might take considerably longer to put together an e-book.
“Try to make the e-book easy to read,” Scott said. “Keep things fun and interesting. Open with a story, and use examples and stories throughout.”