Once you've decided to create a booklet or special report, you
need to decide whether you will be offering the text in printed
form or as an electronic download - or in both ways. Do not use
your personal preferences or values as your sole criterion
(e.g., "I like having something printed and substantial when I
pay money for something" or "Anyone who doesn't understand that
paper is obsolete isn't worth selling to").
Why not? It may turn out that your preferences aren't as widely
shared as you think they are. And there may be important
practical considerations that you haven't factored in yet.
Before making your final decision on this question, consider
* Perceived value may be higher for a tangible item than for a
downloaded one, particularly if the product is durably and
* On the other hand, a download may offer much higher perceived
value because the information is thereby immediately available.
* Printed and bound information may be less likely to get copied
and redistributed than a download that is not copy protected.
* Your target market may not feel comfortable with the process
of downloading files, or may have so many technical problems
opening and reading the download that the customer service
headaches quickly mount up.
* If you want to provide another kind of item along with text,
such as audio or video tapes, a print catalog or an object, such
as a calculate-your-mortgage wheel or meatloaf pan, the print
format makes more sense.
* When it would be nice for people to be able to click on Web
addresses right from your text, a download may seem like the
* Fraud rates for downloadable products are very much higher
than for products that get sent by mail.
* You can gather a valuable, valid postal mailing list when
selling tangible items to be shipped or mailed, but addresses
are less reliable for download sales.
Now let me say a little more about a few of the factors above.
First, fraud is indeed a very serious problem for products
bought and received immediately online. Not only does the
merchant almost always get stuck with a loss when a customer
disputes an online charge, if the rate of "chargebacks" - sales
reversed because of customer protest - gets too high, the
merchant can lose his or her credit-card processing account and
find it next to impossible to secure another one. On the other
hand, established third-party digital download services have
address checking and fraud detection procedures in place that
may not be as available to individual merchants.
Second, Adobe Acrobat (PDF) files can be copy protected by the
creator with several security options available. For example,
you can set up a file to allow someone to read but not print,
read but not copy and paste to another application, download but
not create a copy of the file or not allow the file to be
e-mailed to another computer. However, such restrictions
sometimes do more harm than good by annoying or even enraging
honest users who find themselves unable to make fair use of the
material for which they' ve paid. For instance, they may
download a file at work and then be unable to send it to their
home computer, which is where they would have downloaded it to
begin with if they'd had high-speed Internet access there.
Third, don't underestimate the difficulties both novice and
experienced computer users may have in downloading files and
accessing that information. Nancy Hendrickson, co-author of a
genealogy e-book, had to stop offering her e-book as a PDF file
because customers had a multitude of difficulties:
* The buyer couldn't figure out where the saved file was on
* The buyer couldn't figure out how to open the PDF file (even
if they already had Adobe Reader installed on their system).
* Those without Adobe Reader couldn't figure how to download and
Even after including in the "thank you for your purchase"
message a detailed "here's how to download and run the file"
note, Hendrickson continued to get complaints from almost 25% of
her customers. She and her coauthor then converted the e-book to
a self-executing .exe file and complaints fell off to almost
nothing. However, her e-book is now not available at all to
customers with Mac computers.
If you're tempted to dismiss her experience because your
customers are technically sophisticated, more knowledgeable or
adept computer users, consider my experience: I've been online
since 1994, have purchased and downloaded several e-books or
special reports and have never been able to figure out why
hyperlinks that are supposed to be able to transport me from a
page in a PDF file to the corresponding Web page don't do
anything when I click on them. I've also downloaded a few PDF
files that were practically unreadable because I didn't have the
font in which they were created.
I don't say this to dismiss the potential of downloaded content.
On the contrary, I love getting an e-mail notifying me that
someone has bought one of my digital products without any
intervention on my part. Just realize: This is not a
trouble-free medium, and be prepared for technical problems and
In this light, perhaps the best option is to offer both print
and digital versions, so that people can select the medium that
fits their needs and capabilities. When one of my colleagues
offered print, PDF and both print and PDF versions, about 15
percent chose "both"!
About the author:
The above is excerpted from "Profiting from Booklets and Special
Reports" by Marcia Yudkin, which is available from
http://www.yudkin.com/bookletsreports.htm. Marcia Yudkin
is the author of 11 books, including
Internet Marketing for Less than $500/Year and Poor Richard's
Web Site Marketing Makeover.