Peter Balis, director of online sales at Wiley, and Brent Lewis, v-p for digital and Internet at Harlequin, shed light on how their companies have given away content as a way of generating revenue and increasing visibility for their brands. The moderator at the Thursday morning panel, Michael Norris of Simba Information, opened the panel with statistics from a recent study showing that 8% of the U.S. population have purchased at least one e-book, and 15% have read one.

Both Balis and Lewis agreed that the key to giveaways is to have a business objective, to know why you are giving content away and to be clear about where the benefit is. Wiley has three rules: free must not cannibalize paid; free must not dilute the brand; and free must have a purpose, either to generate revenue or provide advertising and PR.

Wiley has found that for the first time, its e-book sales have migrated from academic research to consumer reading. He cited, a travel Web site that offers free e-books, but he emphasized that the content available is not the same as in the print edition. Also, to get to the Web content, one must go through a series of screens that provide more advertising opportunities. Cliff Notes is another Wiley brand where readers can access content for free—the entire book, in fact—but information cannot be downloaded or printed; since students are usually working late at night, they usually purchase the book to have it available away from an Internet connection.

Lewis told two tales of authors giving away content, with different results. The author of The Truth About Cheating appeared on Oprah and the downloadable book was offered on (also via Amazon and Sony) for free for 24 hours. The e-book jumped to the top of the list, as did the print version and, after the 24 hours ended, the book continued to sell. In the second scenario, an author wanted to offer his book A World Wide Rave free on Kindle for one week. The downloads were significant, but the freebie hurt profits. Wiley concluded that a week was too long and the book lost momentum.

Harlequin, on the other hand, is giving away the store or, rather, just enough to make the consumer hungry for the rest of what it has for sale. Using its 60th anniversary as a marketing tool to recapture readers who were introduced to the brand as teenagers and most likely not aware that there are 16 separate lines, Harlequin, for all of 2009, is giving away free the first book in each series, both the print versions and downloadable e-books (on And they want you to pass the content on to others.

The final message? Follow the outlined rules, be creative and never forget that the ultimate goal is to garner either revenue or attention. Give it away but... hold something back.

Click here for more BookExpo America 2009 coverage in PW.