What are penny ebooks?
A quick search on eBay for "ebook" with the price limited to one penny will show hundreds of listings. Most, if not all of these listings offer ebooks that claim to be able to change your life dramatically. The majority offer unlimited wealth, usually using eBay or the web, whilst plenty of others offer advice on how to improve your lifestyle, or break a bad habit such as smoking or overeating.
How can people sell them so cheap?A quick look at the eBay fees pages will reveal an interesting point...
Most penny ebooks are listed as "Buy It Now" (BIN) items. eBay's basic listing fee for a BIN priced at 1p is 15p. In order to attract attention, almost all listings use the gallery feature, so that a picture is displayed in the listings next to their item. The eBay fee for this is another 15p.
Adding these together shows that for every 1p that the seller gains by selling a penny ebook, they have to pay 30p in fees to eBay! In other words, every sale of a penny ebook costs them 29p!
If these sellers are here to make money (a safe assumption), then why are they selling something that loses them 29p every time someone buys?
Why do people sell them?It should not come as any surprise to discover that the purpose of selling penny ebooks is not to make money on the books. If the ebooks were merely what they claim to be, no-one would sell them. There are basically two types of people selling penny ebooks:
Type A - The feedback builderThe simple reason is that it is a quick way to build your feedback. Someone who is just starting selling on eBay will have a low feedback that might discourage buyers. In order to build feedback quickly, they sell penny ebooks. They consider the 49p cost per feedback a worthwhile investment. These type of sellers are fairly easy to spot as the description for their ebooks will include some comment like " Feedback must be left" or similar. Beware of listings like this.
Furthermore, feedback builders often request that you make only one purchase per person. This is because your feedback score only shows the number of unique eBayers that have left feedback for you. Multiple feedbacks from one other eBayer do not give a higher feedback rating, so are not wanted by these sellers. On the contrary, if they had multiple purchases from the same buyer, it would cost them a lot more money for the one feedback point that would be shown.
So, are these types of sellers best avoided, or is there some benefit to the buyer? The answer really depends on the nature of the ebook. For the buyer, you are taking a very low risk, and receiving a feedback point in return. That alone could be worth 1p, even if the ebook is not. However, it is important to note that the modern eBay user is not as naive as they used to be. People do not merely look at the total feedback score, they will often have a quick scan through your recent sales and purchases when assessing you. If someone sees that a lot of your recent transactions were for penny ebooks, they will be suspicious of your feedback rating. So whilst one or two penny ebooks can add to your feedback, more than that could damage your overall reputation.
Type B - The backend marketeerThe second, and more common type of penny ebook seller has an altogether different plan in mind. This can be very beneficial to you, or something you will want to avoid, depending on your interest in the subject of the ebook.
A very successful marketing technique on the web is to offer free information. Contrary to popular opinion, few people use the web with the express intention of making a purchase. Other than those who go online to check their e-mail, the majority use it for gathering information. The job of an Internet marketeer is to convince the information gatherer to buy. The best way to do that is to offer them exactly what they wanted in the first place - information - and offer it free.
Enter the free ebook. Many web sites offer a free ebook on a subject related to their product line. Some will offer this as a no-strings download, the more informed ones will ask for your name and e-mail address before offering the download. This enables them to add you to their mailing list, where they can subtly convince you to become a customer.
And what of the free ebook? Simple - it's a clever sales device. It will be packed full of relevant information, exactly aimed at their target audience, and will give you helpful advice about what products to buy to fulfil your wishes. Obviously, the products they recommend just happen to be ones they sell on their web site, but as they have now gained your confidence by offering the valuable free information in the ebook, you don't mind being nudged gently towards their products. This is where they make their money.
An alternative option is for people who do not have their own product line to sell, but who are affiliates for other people's web sites. As affiliates, they receive a commission for every sale that they cause. So if the reader of an ebook clicks a link in the book, and ends up on a web site for which the ebook's author is an affiliate, the author will be paid a commission when the reader buys something.
Back to eBayTake the same marketing principle and apply it to eBay, and you end up with the 1p ebook. You can't give things away for nothing on eBay, so the next best thing is to offer it for the lowest price. Enter the penny ebook. Someone with an eBay shop, or even an external e-commerce web site writes or buys the rights to an ebook, and makes sure that the book contains loads of links to their product pages. They sell the book for 1p on eBay, and they have a stream of targeted potential customers looking at their products. This is powerful advertising.
After reading this, you might think that penny ebooks are of no value to the buyer, and are actually something to be avoided. Before jumping to hasty conclusions, it's worth looking a little further...
What are the benefits to the buyer?If you have a specific interest in a subject, whether personal or professional, you will always be on the lookout for good sources of information about that subject. More than that, you will always be interested in seeing quality products and finding good deals. If so, why not buy an ebook on the subject? OK, so the author is going to try and steer you towards his/her products, but adverts in special interest magazines do exactly the same thing and no-one complains about them.
The benefits to the buyer can be quite significant. You are given the (hopefully) useful information contained in the ebook. If that information is no good, then the author will already have failed in his/her task of guiding you towards their products, so it is very likely that the information will be worth the 1p. Furthermore, you are offered targeted information about products and services relevant to your interest area. Again, this is little different from reading an advertising feature in a special interest magazine.
What are the potential problems?Generally, there are few problems for the informed buyer when it comes to ebooks. You always run the risk that the ebook is simply no good, but when you consider that it only cost you 1p, this is a minor consideration.
A bigger problem comes from unscrupulous ebook sellers. Whenever you make a purchase on eBay, the buyer has access to your registered name and e-mail address. Although it is strictly against eBay policy, some sellers will add your name and e-mail address to their mailing list, and you will start receiving their marketing messages. This is not usually a major problem, as the ones with any sense will remove you from the list as soon as you ask them to, as they will be suspended from eBay if they are reported to be in violation of eBay policies.