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Should You Give Away Information Online?

© 1999 Virginia Lawrence, Ph.D.

Should you give away information in your non-fiction book?

Yes, you might gain an advantage by giving away your hard-won facts; think about the best direct mail packages. Do you receive offers from Boardroom Reports or from the medical newsletter created by Dr. Julian Whitaker? Have you noticed how much information they give you in their marketing mailings? They are demonstrating their expertise and earning your respect by giving you important information outright. They exemplify an excellent way to hand out part of the information cache while enticing the reader to sign up to receive more. This direct mail method also works online in several different ways.

Individual Chapters Online

Many people who are selling books are displaying full sections of the books online. For example, SPAWN member Virginia Cornell has established the Manifest Publications site at where visitors can read her humor columns and chapters from one of her books.

E-mailing Chapters on Request

Some small book publishers are allowing site visitors to choose one chapter to receive by e-mail. Thus the publisher has their e-mail address for later contact with new offers. It is

Including Links to New Chapters in a Newsletter

Some publishers are using a Web site form to sign visitors up for a frequent e-mail newsletter. The newsletter contains a link to a new book section which has been recently posted to the site. This method is used by Guerilla Marketing Online at

Including a Full Chapter in a Newsletter

Some publishers send a newsletter with a section of the book highlighted. Of course, the newsletter also contains ordering information and a link to the Web site.

Complete Free Book at the Web Site

This is the most startling method of all. Some publishers are actually placing one or more entire books online. Rough Guides publishes travel guidebooks in England. Three years ago, they decided to place the contents of their most popular travel guides online at

That move sounds foolhardy, but sales of Rough Guides books have risen 20% per year since the books have been online. You will find the success of this process even more surprising when you hear that Rough Guides does not sell directly to the public. They sell only through established bookstores, so Web site visitors must take the extra step of finding a bookstore carrying the chosen guide.

Rough Guides made the online books searchable, and they added maps and photographs, discussion groups, timely weather tips, and booking. Rough Guides filled their Web site with information to position the site as the ultimate travel source. The site generates traffic, and Rough Guides sells more books.


Note that the underlying concepts in these examples remain the same:

  1. Give away information to establish trust and respect.
  2. Keep in contact with site visitors to remind them of the site and your products.

Yes, giving away information online is an excellent way to attract buyers.

~ Virginia Lawrence, Ph.D. is an Information Architect who publishes both in print and online. Contact her at

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