The Decline Of The Ebook, And The Search For “THUD”

There was a time when an e-book was considered a novel idea. It turned into a gold rush. People throwing stuff into a PDF file, throwing some slick marketing behind it, and basically creating income out of thin air.

Obviously an attractive concept. Then the gold rush mentality took over. People sold a lot of crappy ebooks. People also bought a lot of crappy ebooks. Just look at Clickbank’s Marketplace and you’ll find a LOT of really stupid ebooks – all of them claiming to be the secret to something.

Ebooks have lost their shine.

There was a time when an e-book was considered a novel idea. It turned into a gold rush. People throwing stuff into a PDF file, throwing some slick marketing behind it, and basically creating income out of thin air.

Obviously an attractive concept. Then the gold rush mentality took over. People sold a lot of crappy ebooks. People also bought a lot of crappy ebooks. Just look at Clickbank’s Marketplace and you’ll find a LOT of really stupid ebooks – all of them claiming to be the secret to something.

Ebooks have lost their shine.

Perception Is Reality

An ebook might contain a treasure trove of knowledge, but the problem is that the perceived value of an ebook is low.

Look at a printed book. The average price of a book at the bookstore is, let’s say, less than $30. No matter how awesome a book is, if you charge much more than that, you’re going to have a much harder time selling it. The perceived value is around $30. It is just a book.

The problem with e-books is that it is just a PDF (usually). A simple file that anybody can make for free on their computer. People only place so much value on the knowledge within. There is knowledge everywhere. No shortage of it. So, your ebook is just another echo in just another PDF file. The print book might sell for $30, but we’re at a point now where the initial shine of the ebook doesn’t exempt it from the problem of perception.

The perceived value of an ebook is low. Besides, most people will download it, scan it really quick, close it and never open it again. It sits there lost in their hard drive’s file system.

What can you do about it?

Doing Something Different

No matter how good your product is or how good you are at marketing, perceived value is something you have to deal with. So, the FORM of your offering should take this into account.

Why do you think internet marketers so often sell things in physical format? They call it the “thud factor”. When the customer opens the box, it looks like they got a lot of stuff. The perceived value is high. With digital products, you don’t have the same thud factor.

It is purely a psychological thing. At the end of the day, after you’ve gotten that huge pile of DVDs, you wish it were in digital form so it would take up less room. But, still, you most likely experienced that little “thud” when you opened the box and got that nice fuzzy feeling. 🙂

So, what can you do to add higher perceived value to your offerings? Well, there are several ways:

  1. Use videos. Videos have a higher perceived value than an ebook. You can add to it by providing a way to download the video. So, ask yourself, can you take what you would put into an ebook and, instead, communicate the same information using video?
  2. Use membership sites. Membership sites are great platforms because they don’t have a real-world comparison in terms of pricing. So, you don’t have the perception problem when it comes to pricing. You, as the marketer, CREATE the perceived value. So, can you take what you would have put into an ebook and put it into a membership site instead? Realize, too, that you don’t necessarily have to charge money for a membership site. You could even use it as your bribe to earn list opt-ins.
  3. Make it an Event. People love participating in live events. You can add perceived value to anything by putting a live component into it. This is why I love webinars so much. If you haven’t thought about doing webinars yet, give it some thought.
  4. Go Physical. Even though you have to chuckle sometimes at the length some marketers go to to add as much “thud” to their stuff as possible, it is clear why they do it. It is the thud. I once paid $1,000 for a course which came in the form of 20 DVDs. Nice thud, but when you opened it, it was just a really bad recording of a live event. But, going physical adds perceived value and, usually, you can charge more for a product simply because you’ve made it physical.
  5. Rethink your terminology. What you call something adds to (or subtracts from) the perceived value. For example, calling something a “white paper” means more in some markets than the word “ebook”. Words like “worksheet”, “blueprint”, “manual”… these things might increase conversion because they have a better perception than “ebook” As usual, you would need to split test it to see how your audience responds.
  6. Pile on the proof. Powerful social proof adds perceived value. While it might just be a PDF, if you’ve got several notable people in your niche saying how awesome and groundbreaking it is, then you’ve moved past the “ebook” thing and into the value of the contents.
  7. Put it on a reader device. Realize that the perceived value thing applies mostly to PDF ebooks. However, e-books that are bought via a site like Amazon and read on a Kindle or an Ipad – that has higher perceived value. Of course, it is usually earned value, because Kindle books are just as well put together than a typical physical book – WAY beyond what you find in the typical PDF ebook.

Brainstorm Your “Thud Factor”

What can you do to add a “thud factor” and higher perceived value to your offerings?

The FORM of your product is an important part of the marketing, so it is worth thinking about.

Free access to a membership site might work as a much better incentive for a list opt-in than yet another e-book. A video training course will probably work much better than an ebook.

Let me know your thoughts.


  1. OK, so this has got me thinking. I have a lot of long, dry informational articles on my site that read much like an encyclopedia. I had thought, as part of my revision, to pull these together into an ebook and offer it for sale. But now I wonder if it wouldn’t be better to make some sort of wiki site and make it accessible to members only. Since I’ll be adding content over timr, this would also allow for a more dynamic product. I’m not sure I could get away with charging for it, but it would be a good way to collect names for the list.

  2. I agree with your sentiment. E-books can very much be an emotive purchase when a quick solution is desired whereas software products, services in general and physical products tend to be more considered purchases.

  3. I recently finished writing a book that I was going to publish in physical and electronic format but had horrible customer service at the self publisher I was using, so I decided to drop the physical and go electronic only. I was worried about losing that “thud” factor so I think I might check out LuLu after all. Hopefully they have their act together more than the other self publishers I have dealt with.

  4. If you want to give the appearance of a real book, take your electronic text and go ahead and make a book through Offer it as the hard-copy book, with plenty of “thud”. Then offer the ePub format for your readers, guilting them into the “green” option, with a discount to save a tree.

    I believe the fact that there exists a hard copy printed version, will give the perceived value you need to sell the eBook.

  5. For ipad 'padpressed' is fairly new, turns a blog into an ipad style app, maybe ipad users would be encouraged to subscribe. The 'blog' could be tweaked to remove dates and be a one-off ebook style set of content pages navigated like an app.


  6. haha! I like what you said about clickbank “Clickbank’s Marketplace and you’ll find a LOT of really stupid ebooks” – It is exactly what I said. Only you said it in a nicer way 😉
    I said every time I visit clickbank I see nothing of value and nothing but a scam….
    Thanks so much David for saying that again it made my day that there IS someone out there who believes the same as me…..

  7. I have something where it's a bunch of things together to make it a 'Package' which does quite well actually.

    Although whatever you call it, it's gotta live up to it.

    I think it's not the ebook that's lost it's shine tho. It's the fact that there's so much more crap, it's lost it's value. I still value an ebook if it seems like it's got the goods.

  8. That's the key. When you self produce the first or first few you will have skill and wherewithal to know what's going on if you decide to outsource later. Also, when self publishing and producing you can go “BIGGER” and get more creative on a smaller coin. Right?

  9. As with our ever growing need for more distractions at a faster pace ebooks are evolving. The Vook while not mainstream has potential. Also as the cool factor of the things that these enhanced ebooks are downloaded to improve and has a bigger variety (ie. next gen iPad,Nook,Kindle,netbook tablets,smartphone tablet hybrids) the thud factor will be in the hardware and the content of the resource.

  10. Yes, that is a thud factor, for sure. I've had a lot of people give great feedback about the Blueprint report. Plus, it has been my flagship report for awhile, and comes with an MP3 file which adds value. But, aside from some of those things, a casual observer would say, “This is just another ebook about making money online”.

    I actually have some things in mind (and will do soon) to up the value beyond an ebook… just in terms of a giveaway to my new email subscribers. Just a matter of putting it together. 🙂

  11. I'm wondering, what about awesome reviews of your ebook, wouldn't that be sort of a thud factor or I'm a missing the point? Reviews are all about perception, no review, well then you've got to turn the product into something else, I agree with that.

    To me, reviews are crucial. There are just as many stupid books as there are stupid ebooks, and there are probably a lot more stupid books that people don't buy at all. The books people buy are the ones with the awesome reviews, the reviews are everywhere, even at the cover of the books – the same with dvd's (For instance, you get sentences like this “If you're only going to watch one movie this year, this is it – the observer”).

  12. I've got my eye on Flipboard style presentation. It's coming, no doubt.

    I really need to format in markdown or something. I'm still pissed that Docbook never really took off. Sure, it was clunky, and didn't work that well. But nothing else has really tried to solve that problem.

  13. Perception is so critical.

    I had a talk with a friend the other night, about MREs. You know, Meals Ready to Eat, combat rations.

    Which, of course, are universally despised by pretty much everyone.

    Except me.

    See, when you're hungry, food is good to eat.

    (You will understand this at a gut level when you can smell a saltine cracker 50 yards upwind.)

    Anyways, Trader Joes now sells a selection of packaged, ethnic food items in foil pouches which are identical to the foil pouches used in MREs.

    People love 'em!

    And not because they taste better. Some do, some don't.

    It's all on the cardboard box containing the foil pouch with the food:
    MRE: Brown cardboard.
    Trader Joes: Wonderful plates of delicious, ethnic foodstuffs!

    The US military would be far better served to offer up MREs in boxes plastered with images of Army! Navy! Marines! all doing their thing. MREs would sure taste a whole lot better.

  14. Right on, Dave. The APP model seems only natural as an extension for the book/topic/course/channel, plus fanclub, plus video/interactives and other extended media/content with live community.

    The APP may become everything we wanted the CDROM to be in the early 90s, only more mobile and up-to-date information as released. The non-transferrable APP — may the ultimate robotic periodical…

  15. I agree with the terminology factor. Audiences in certain niches may not even fully understand what an eBook really is. Some do, but undervalue. Some do, but don't undervalue it.

    It's the exact reason why my FM-Britain video game book is referred to as a “guide” as well as an “eBook”. The first for those who don't understand the concept much. The latter for those who already have seen plenty of guides for the game, so the term “eBook” makes it sound much more credible. In either case, we added 2.5 hours of audio into it as well because none of our competing sites use multimedia much in any way at all. This boosts the perceived value incredibly.

    As with everything, it's completely niche dependent. Instead of thinking in terms of what works in the internet marketing & tech spaces (which are typically full of early adopters), focus more on what the readers/customers in your field consider to be more valuable perception-wise – and market effectively towards that.

  16. I've shipping “book as app” since August 14, 2009. Complete with subversion revision numbers, version numbering, and naming for major releases. The previous release was named “Barger.” The current release is “Metholz.” The next release is “William.” Probably “Malda” after that, haven't decided yet.

    There's more:

    * Worksheets: check.
    * Slide decks: 1 is complete, 3 more underway.
    * Website integration: 1/3 finished.
    * Videos: some screencasts scripted, a couple already posted.
    * Physical: Ebook format can be retemplated easily (XeTeX).
    * Reader device: Easier said than done, iPad first.
    * Lifetime subscription.

    And yes, I'm pitching it as a manual rather than an ebook. I could go on, I'll stop here.

    I'm doing my own production. Time consuming.

    And I really hate tipping my hand. Much prefer to announce completed work rather than planned or ongoing.

  17. yep, distributing your information through different channels like the ipad, membership sites or videos not only increases the perception of value but it is also meeting your audience where they are at…. or using a medium they would like to use to consume your content.

  18. A lot of ebooks are filled with crap, 40 pages of filler and not much else, you go tired trying to find the so called gold nugget info… However if it was only 5 pages of exact same content people would “think” it had no value.

    Optimizing ebooks for iPad like devices and smartphones is the future, that is the THUD!

  19. I kinda agree. I mean I won't like reading Seth Godin's thing in an ebook if print equivalent wasn't available. It feels like “not that important”.

    I guess cool idea will be to offer both – ebook and print. + Do all the cool things you suggested here.
    Let's see what you do with your awesome book.

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