Nowadays, If I hear about or come across a book that intrigues me, I don’t just buy it. I make sure to sample it first.
Not by browsing through pages in a bookstore, not by reading an excerpt online, and certainly not by flipping through those awful “browse” interfaces where I digitally “flip” pages to go from one page to the next. I simply click a button on the ebook product page and the first 1,000 words or so show up on the device of my choice. I love this feature. I’ve come to rely on it in order to decide if I really want to buy the book.
It’s this simple: If I like what I’m reading in the sample, I click the buy button at the end of it, and the whole book is instantly on my device. If I’m not won over, I delete the sample and move on to the next.
It’s about the money, of course. I don’t want to spend money on something that I might not actually want to read. But mostly it’s about time — I want to make sure I’m spending more of it reading books that I truly enjoy.
The ease in which you can get a sample on your reading device to read at your leisure, free of ads or pop-ups or clunky interfaces, is one of the best things to come about in the ebook revolution. And while it doesn’t get mentioned very often, I think it’s now a huge factor in how people make decisions about what book they’re going to buy and read next.
Yes, there has been some talk about how the ease in which the first pages of a book can be sampled means writers have to pay extra attention to making sure those opening pages are truly amazing. But writers have always had to open with their best. The lead is the lead, always has been, always will be.
What I’m interested in is what the online retailers may be able to do to improve the sample experience. This isn’t so much about technical innovation — we don’t need anything too fancy here — it’s more about increasing word counts, convenience and options for the customer.
Here are some ideas to improve the ebook sample experience:
— Automatic samples delivered to me by my favorite authors. Or an alert via email that a sample is available, as I understand it would be rather intrusive to just put something onto a person’s device, even at some earlier point in time they opted-in to this auto-delivery.
— Earlier availability of samples, well before the book’s publication date. I often hear about books well before their release date. Why should I have to wait until the book actually comes out to get a sample, which is what Kindle and NOOK do? iBookstore is the only one doing an early release of the sample, a nice competitive advantage, if you ask me. Early release of the sample should be standard. People are more than comfortable pre-ordering, which is what they will do if they read and like a sample before the ebook is actually on sale. And of course both publishers and retailers consider pre-orders a huge positive. It begs the question: why this isn’t already a standard?
— Offer “Send An Excerpt” bookmarklets, so savvier publications and publishers, and of course the authors themselves — even fans of the authors or books, can embed on their websites, thereby allowing users to just click a button and send a sample to their device of choice without having to be on an online retailer’s product page.
— More text — why stop at 1,000 words, or whatever the exact word-count limit is? The more text that’s available, the more I will be able to tell whether or not the book is something I want to read. And if I get that far along, and invest that much time in a sample, clearly I am hooked — I’m most likely going to tap to purchase.
Things I don’t want: messaging from the author or the publisher. The less the authors and publishers actually control the sample, the better. They’ll want to load it up with letters and descriptive copy and the worst of the worst, blurbs, which are nothing more than manufactured praise. Just give me the opening pages from the book, preferably as many as possible.
Overall: Samples are a huge positive for readers out there. It helps make sure what we read next will most likely be worth our while. The more ebook retailers can do to improve upon and expand this service, the better our reading experience will be. It goes without saying that the better our experience, the MORE we will read (and buy). It’s a win for all involved — retailers, publishers, writers, and most of all, readers.