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Sourcebooks NEXT.

So we had a good idea, perhaps you heard about it.

December 16 is Jane Austen's birthday and we thought to celebrate by giving away free ebooks of a number of our bestselling Jane Austen-inspired works, plus special ebook editions of Austen's 6 novels including the famous Brock brothers' illustrations. The goal? A one-day only extravaganza giveaway just for her birthday, and we'd offer it everywhere ebooks are sold.

One of the things we're trying to do on the Sourcebooks Next blog is talk about digital experiments from the point of view of those actually doing the work. So this is the short story of our Jane Austen promotion - and how it went wrong.

Let me start by explaining what went wrong: simply put, on the morning of December 16, the books in the promotion were not free. And people noticed of course – everyone who'd so graciously spread the word of the promo was now justifiably taking us to task.

So what happened? Here are the challenges we faced, whether we knew them or not (and in a number of cases, we just didn't know).

Challenge #1: Not Enough Time
For starters, we came up with the idea for the entire promotion on December 3, less than two weeks before the date. Within days we had announced the program internally, drafted our releases, and begun the gears turning. It turns out, though, that when we run promotions across multiple etailers, they need at least two weeks to ensure proper setup and we've found it's usually best to have about six to eight weeks of total processing time (and cushion) to ensure that all our external retailers can process the information and set it up to happen at the same time. Is digital retailing and cataloguing instantaneous? No, it's not.

Challenge #2: Multiple External Systems
Every one of our external vendors has a different system and schedule, so we work individually with the iBookstore, Google, Nook, Kindle, and everyone else. Each of our etailers has a different timeline and process for implementing promotions. We have a mix where we manually adjust prices at some accounts and we submit price changes via spreadsheet to other accounts. We generally cannot specify an exact time for these promotions to take effect, though most of our accounts let us specify the day. So it's more complicated than you (or I obviously) would expect.

Challenge #3: "Available Everywhere Ebooks Are Sold"
This would've all been easier if we'd just done something like offer the files on a designated landing page on our website, right? Certainly, it would've been easier for us, but what reader wants that kind of restriction? With some devices, we know you're restricted to where you can get your ebooks. So we were going for ultimate ease – no extra clicks, syncs, or heaven-knows-what workaround to try getting these ebooks on your device. Turns out that goal complicated things.

Challenge #4: "One Day Only!"
We've run countless ebook promotions with our ebook partners, but I don't think we'd ever tried a one-day-only promotion. Usually a special offer runs a week, two weeks, a month. A day? Didn't know if we could do it. And the answer is yes, many of our partners can run one-day offers. But not all of them. A few places can't or don't run one-day offers. Well, we didn't know that at the beginning of this process.

Challenge #5: Territory Restrictions
Here's one that frankly didn't occur to us. If you wanted to download an ebook from the promotion and you were in Australia, the UK, or elsewhere, could you get it? The answer was sometimes no. In some cases underlying territory restrictions on the publishing rights side may have gotten in the way, and in some cases the territory restrictions may have come from your account at an etailer. This too was a result of our attempt to have the books available with each retail partner. And what happened with those partners when some of the books were available but some were not? Well, that turned out to be new learning too.

So what did we learn?
Well, as with so many things, your results are often determined by communication, time, and raw effort. Our lack of time probably knocked down what we could accomplish with the other two. And I really have to give kudos to our etailing partners, many of whom scrambled to help us through these unforeseen problems. Indeed, as the morning of December 16 ticked along, the promotion went live at store after store. And we quickly chose to extend the promotion an extra day to make up for the awkward start.

In close, we first and foremost offer our apologies – we tried, we screwed up, we're sorry. We hope those who wanted the books were able to get them, and that readers have been able to discover the work of these wonderful authors. We believe that all the stores now have them free except Sony (who will shortly). And we've added one more day as a Bonus Jane Austen Birthday Celebration!

Feel free to tell us what you think. It's been an exciting day. And did I mention, we launched a new website (the new sourcebooks.com) and an incredible new initiative, Books Change Lives in conjunction with awesome partners Friday Reads and Shelf Unbound today too! Can't wait to see what tomorrow brings!

Thanks to everyone who participated!


Books Change Lives


+2 # Arleigh 2010-12-16 18:06
Thank you so much for sharing these eBooks! I only recently started using the Kindle app for BlackBerry and it's easier and more convenient than I thought it would be. I'll probably buy more in the future (though I have plenty to read now thank to you!)
-2 # Staci Taylor 2010-12-16 18:09
I sincerely believe that Sourcebooks handled this wonderfully!! As soon as you realized that some etailers didn't have the price to zero, you work diligently to rectify the situation. I'm in awe of the wonderful promotion and thank you for your generosity!!!


Staci Taylor
Life in The Thumb
Avid Reader and Book Blogger
Huge Fan of Sourcebooks
-2 # Mason Canyon 2010-12-16 18:48
I think it was a wonderful idea, snags and all. It definitely got people talking and thinking about Jane Austen, as well as the other authors writing Austen-related books. Thanks for including me.

Thoughts in Progress
-2 # pam@eurobands.us 2010-12-16 21:07
I just waited until everything was up and then sent out external links! Great experiment.
-2 # Laurel Ann 2010-12-16 21:22
Thanks for the great attitude and kind apology to readers Dominique.

I just about died when I opened my email this morning to 275 messages from Janeites from my blog & writing to me directly asking how to make this work. Ack!

I knew that you would eventually work out the free part with the etailers, but many foreign readers are a bit disappointed today.

I have been working with your publicist Danielle Jackson for several years and have always gotten red carpet treatment. Your concern and actions today only solidify my confidence and admiration for your company.

Now, if I could only have the 5 hours back I spent today trying to help my readers & your customers, all would be right in Austenland.

Cheers, Laurel Ann
+2 # drey 2010-12-16 21:51
I know how things can go awry given any of the challenges above, much less all of them! But you guys kept on top of it, and learned some to-do items for the next giveaway promotion to celebrate something just as momentous as Jane Austen's 235th birthday. :) Thanks for the offering--i downloaded a few to read & re-read.
-2 # Audra 2010-12-17 08:25
It was an amazing promotion; I saw on many blogs the updates from Sourcebooks folks as everyone tried to iron out the various kinks. Hopefully it doesn't feel like a thankless endeavor - I greatly appreciate the new books and new authors to explore. Thank you!
+2 # John A. Karr 2010-12-17 08:32
As a writer trying to grasp how to publicize, thanks for sharing your experience. Not everyone would be big enough to do so.
-2 # bookfanmb 2010-12-17 08:33
Thank you for the books! I really appreciate the ease of ordering for my particular ereader - no matter how long it took for the deal to be available.
I suspect you've taught many in the community how to offer a fantastic free deal.
Again, thank you, Sourcebooks :-)
+2 # Tim Brazier 2010-12-17 10:43
Feel your pain. We did a free Back-to-School promotion in August exclusively with the iBookstore and saw 500k eBooks downloaded in 2 weeks. We are doing another free eBook promotion with 130 titles but this time across different eRetailers and it is so complicated with signing contracts and different capabilities. We started at the end of October. Wish us luck on Jan 4th. It will be exciting to see what happens when our promotion is open to people on these different devices.
-1 # Dick Hartzell 2010-12-17 11:15
As a physical book merchandiser at Barnes & Noble.com I didn't participate in the Sourcebooks Jane Austen's Birthday free book promotion, but when I came in this morning there were the usual emails in my inbox alerting me to titles that had popped into the top 100, top 10, and top 1 on the site for the first time in the last 12 weeks (we merchandisers get these throughout the day), and most of this latest crop were driven by your Jane Austen's Birthday promotion. Indeed, I've got an email dated 1:14 AM this morning telling me that What Would Jane Austen Do? had hit #1 in ebooks. So whatever the headaches you endured building this thing you must have been doing something right!
-3 # Chip MacGregor 2010-12-17 11:47
Taking risks is always hard. So you tried, you learned some lessons, and you'll implement those lessons next time. My experience is that only about 30% of marketing is effective anyway -- and we'll never know which elements are working unless we try a bunch. So thanks for trying. More importantly, THANKS for being willing to blog about this so forthrightly!
0 # TraceyDevlyn 2010-12-17 12:06
Hi Dominique,

How brave of you to lay all this out for us. Just goes to show you that with any business, no matter how many years of experience and know-how, there's always something new to learn. Keeps things exciting. :)

The new website is wonderful. Easy to navigate, clean lines, refreshing colors. Great job.

Have a great holiday season!
-2 # Brooklyn Ann 2010-12-17 12:40
Fascinating post! It was great to learn more of the insides of publisher/book seller relationships and the confusing e-book industry. Thank you so much for sharing.
+1 # R.M.Gilbert 2010-12-17 16:54
Live,learn, grow and adapt. Whether a company is 1 day old or a hundred years old there's always something new to learn or grasp. At least you step up and take responsibility for it and have followed through for your authors and customers.

Fantastic new site!
-2 # Maggie Sullivan 2010-12-19 15:46
You should probably know that the ebook editions you offer of Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey were, judging by the covers, not illustrated by C.E. Brock but by his brother, H.M. Brock. For that particular series, the Brocks split illustrating duties between them.
+1 # Jesse Finkelstein 2010-12-20 14:23
Hi Dominique,

Thanks for sharing this. We've encountered so many of the same issues, and I agree that sometimes the only way to find out what will and won't work is to plunge in and see what happens. Good for you for experimenting, and good for you for speaking up about the challenges. Lots of us in the publishing world are celebrating Sourcebooks' many successes, digital and otherwise.

Jesse Finkelstein
D&M Publishers Inc.
+2 # Rich Schell 2011-11-26 09:53
Thanks for posting and sharing the story, warts and all. This was a valuable piece of insight, and I hope it helps advance ebook publishing.
Rich Schell
-1 # Jane Cosby 2012-03-31 10:00
Thanks for sharing this story. As a software professional, it is very familiar to me, although in very different contexts. ebooks are software, not books. So you were attempting a software enhancement in a very short time frame and to multiple delivery platforms. Very challenging endeavor!

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