Overcoming eBay's Digital Download Prohibition
In March 2008, eBay prohibited the sales of digital items downloaded by buyers after payment.
Now you can no longer list downloadable items in categories outside everything else > information products, and must use classified ads rather than auctions or fixed price listings.
This took me by surprise. Just before this prohibition on digital downloads, I'd spent two hours putting together an ebook I could sell on eBay. I listed the book once and got a few sales before eBay changed the rules.
A note about the two hours, I learned long ago not to spend a long time setting things up unless I know for a fact they'll sell. Today I tend to test something thrown together quickly and then if I get some quick sales, put more time into the project.
Since I'd proven people would buy the download, I was planning on improving the auction and testing a few things to get it dialed in.
Yesterday, eBay changed their downloaded products rules.
Did I waste the two hours?
Before I answer that, let me explain exactly what I do with these ebooks.
I write ebooks designed specifically to be listed in categories other than information products. I don't write ebooks about how to make money while picking your nose.
I'm making this distinction because the ebooks I have were designed to be a slightly profitable way of building an interested newsletter list.
Here's an example. If I wanted to build a list of people interested in vintage Volkswagen beetles, I'd put together a simple report about buying your first Volkswagen. I'd list it on eBay in the VW categories.
It would sell for a few dollars and everyone who bought one would surely be interested in additional information about bugs. When they were downloading the ebook, I'd talk them into signing up for my VW newsletter.
I'd at least break even selling the download and then make money offering other items to the newsletter readers.
That's the concept as it existed last week.
Today that's not possible.
Or is it?
Let me go back to my earlier unanswered question first -- did I waste my two hours?
I don't think so. I think it will increase my work improving the ebook, but that work will also allow me to get higher prices and may make it harder for people to copy me.
Working Around eBay's Digital Download RulesFIRST OPTION - List the digital ebook in the everything else > information products category. I don't think this will work because few buyers would see it.
Sure I could add keywords to the title and description so it came up in searches, but I was suspended for doing that six years ago. Keyword spamming is not a long term solution.
For some people this might be an option. If you run a lot of auctions for related items, say you sell VW parts, you could link to the classified ad within your eBay auctions.
The eBay linking policy allows you to link to your other auctions, and many people use cross promotion tools to do this.
As long as you are actually listing items for sale, you shouldn't have a problem linking to your ad.
This isn't a long term solution, but will work. It's also not as effective in attracting eyeballs to your ebook page because there are additional steps.
If you use classified ads to list ebooks, don't force people to read your offer twice. Put a short benefit laden summary in the classified ad, and a longer sales letter on your website.
The short summary goes on eBay so more people end up on your website where you can ask for their email address.SECOND OPTION - Convert the download to a printed report. My fancy $150 laser printer does booklets. I also own a stapler with a big throat. I can print a 27 page ebook on 7 sheets of paper. With a little more formatting I might get it down to 5 sheets.
Then I'd have to mail the reports which involves envelopes and stamps. My math is $1.15 per booklet mailed which assumes having a printer do them.
I currently make $1.01 per ebook sale at a $1.49 price, so I could easily eat the 14 cent loss if I have a back end that is profitable or just raise the price to $1.99 or $2.49.
Your sales might go up because of the printed nature of the report. However, sign ups to the newsletter might go down because the buyer doesn't have to go to the website to download the book.THIRD OPTION - Put the digital ebook on a CD. A CD in a mailer costs about $2.20 postpaid to US address. That assumes I pay someone to duplicate them for me. I'd have to charge $2.79 to break even which is still do able.
I doubt this is a good option for 3 reasons.
Firstly sending a printed booklet is cheaper and easier. Any copy shop can print booklets meaning I don't have to drive 25 miles to get CDs duplicated.
Secondly just sending a CD with a PDF on it will surely increase support requests. I have problems with people now who complain because they didn't get the book in the mail. I can imagine the problems when a buyer gets a CD in the mail after ordering a book.
This second option isn't a bad option if you're dealing with a larger book with higher printing and mailing costs. You could explain the book comes on a CD to lower the cost of printing and shipping and note how you're passing along the savings to the buyer in your descriptions.
Thirdly, the book on CD has the same problem of people having no reason to go to your website as the printed booklet.FOURTH OPTION - Send something in the mail, and give buyers a bonus ebook they download immediately after paying. The item in the mail is the offer we sell on eBay. The ebook is the download.
Remember, eBay says we can no longer sell downloadable reports in auctions. We can sell something else and give buyers a downloadable report as a bonus though.
So what would we send them?
Whatever it is, it has to be something people want. We might have to explain why they want it, but it needs to be desirable enough to get people to click on the auction title when it comes up in a search result.
It also has to be cheap and easy to make, pack and ship. Something we can do ourselves, or have done in small quantities as we need them.
How about a CD with an interview on it? I can do interviews in my sleep. They aren't very hard. Just go down an outline on the phone and record the call. Interviews have higher perceived values, so we could charge more for them.
How about a CD or DVD with some videos on it? These aren't that hard to do either. If you're doing a product about something related to the web or computers screen capture videos are easy to do and you could put them on a CD.
My VW example isn't suited to a screen capture video, but it wouldn't be much work to take a video camera outside and crawl around my car showing people what to look for. We could just show buyers what I overlooked. The download could just be a checklist of things to look at.
Side note - My 1969 convertible VW needed some small pieces of rubber sealing here and there -- about $400 worth. If I'd bought a video that explained what the rubber cost, I could have used the knowledge to talk the seller down more when I bought the car.
Read that last paragraph again. That is a major benefit for buying the video.
I covered CD costs earlier. DVDs cost about $3.20 each duplicated and mailed. Videos have bigger perceived values so we could charge more for them.
Doing a CD or DVD is more work than just providing link to a download page, but will surely result in less competition. At the right price points, the videos could be a profit center.
The videos might also open new doors you haven't considered.
As an example, this newsletter you are reading right is a direct result of me trying to figure out how to sell my collector strategies manual that explains how to buy antiques and collectibles.
I was looking for a cost effective way to sell the package because ads in antiques magazines weren't working well. Neither were ads on eBay.
I did a video on how to sell antiques and collectibles on eBay. The idea was to sell the video and wrap a sales letter for my package around it.
It turned out there was a really big market for eBay instruction. Today eBay instruction is over 70% of my revenue.
By trying to solve a problem, I found a whole new market.
While you cannot sell digital items on eBay anymore, you can sell cds, booklets, and videos. Think about how you can use these to generate new leads for your business.
PS. Adding Backend Sales To Your eBay Sales is an interview about selling simple reports on eBay, then selling people additional products outside eBay. PPS. Prospecting on eBay is a package that contains step by step instructions for running auctions to build a newsletter list.
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