Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Giving your subscribers a free file (eg an eBook) using Feedburner

This article shows how to make an eBook (or any file) available to your blog's subscribers with Feedburner's FeedFlare tool.   It's written for Blogger users, but most of the information applies to anyone using Feedburner.

Feedflare, a no-maintenance tool for giving away files on your blog

A give-away is one approach to get readers more more connected with your blog:  if you give people something of value, they'll feel warmer and fuzzier towards you, and read your blog more often (so the thinking goes).

No matter what you are giving away, you need a way of getting it to your readers.   This can be more time-consuming than you think, especially if it's an on-going gift for lots of people, not just a one-off gift for one lucky reader.

But if you give away a file, then you just need a computer to do the work for you:  you can put a link on your blog either in a post (like this) or as a gadget (eg linked to from a Picture, or as an entry in a Linked-list gadget).

However you might want to get a bit more cunning, and only make the gift available to people who actually subscribe to your blog, because people who have subscribed are more likely to come back again.  This doesn't guarantee an on-going connection - some folks will subscribe, get the goodies and immediately un-subscribe.   But probably some will become long-term readers.

Feedburner's FeedFlare tool makes it easy to distribute a file to subscribers, using your feed, by:
  • Putting the eBook (or whatever file) somewhere
  • Making a FeedFlare script to show the book, and putting somewhere that it can be read (it's just a text file)
  • Telling your Feed to use the script
  • Telling (potential) subscribers how to access the eBook from your feed. 

    1 Put the file somewhere:

    • Load the file that you want to distribute to any file-host.
    • If the file-host that you use provides security (99.9% of them do), make sure that the access options are set to either "everyone" or "anyone with the link".
    • Make a note of the URL of the file on this system.  
    • Sign out of your file-hosting account and test that you can access the file even though you're logged out.  
      (Testing it at this stage means that you don't have to worry about it later.)
    There are lots of places where you can host files (hosting simply means storing them, usually with some rules about who is allowed to read and edit them.

    I tend to use Google tools because there are less likely to be compatibility problems, so I've been using either Google Docs, or a file cabinet page on a Google Sites site.

    2 Make a FeedFlare script:

    •  Use Notepad (or any other text-editor) to make a text file containing the following:
                <Title>THE TITLE TO SHOW *YOU* IN FEEDBURNER </Title>
                <Description>Download the eBook</Description>
            <Link href="http://URL OF THE FILE YOU ARE GIVING AWAY"/>
    • Customize the text (the bits shown in bold) to the correct values for your file. 
    • This file is your FeedFlare script.  Save it to your computer as YOUR-FILE-NAME.xml  
      Note that it needs to be .xml, not .txt.   
    • Upload the script file to a file host (see the section before for options) from where it can be read as a text file.  
    Note:  In the past, I've found that Google Docs doesn't work for this, because when something tries to read the file it's "served" with a Docs header.   I don't know if it's still the case, but I generally use a filing-cabinet page in Googe Sites to store text files, just in case.
    • Set the access options for this file to are set to either "everyone" or "anyone with the link".
    • Make a note of the URL of the script-file.  
    • Sign out of your file-hosting account and test that you can access the file even though you're logged out.  
      (Testing it at this stage means that you don't have to worry about it later.)

      3 Tell your Feed to use the script:

      • Log in to Feedburner account, with the account that owns your blog's feed.
      • Click on your Feed, to see the details about it.
      • Go to the Optimize tab.
      • Click on Feedflare (currently in menu on the left hand side, under Services)
        The Official FeedFlare section gives you a number of options for adding social networking tools to your feeds.
        In the Personal FeedFlare section, enter the URL of the XML file with your script (ie the one you uploaded in section 2)
      • Click Activate (if you haven't been using Feedflare before) or Save (if you have)

      What your subscribers will see

      Once you have done this, future posts that go out in your feed (both emailed feeds and via feed-reader software) will have an icon at the bottom, labelled with the value you put in for "THE NAME THAT YOU WANT SUBSCRIBERS TO SEE".

      When a subscriber clicks on this link, your eBook (or whatever the fileis ) will download to their computer, and may open depending on their settings for downloaded files.   In Google Reader, it looks like this - you may want to test it in a few feed-reader tools, depending on what your readers use.


      • If the URL of your feedflare file, or your eBook file, starts with HTTPS:// , then take the "S" out, so it becomes http://...
      • If you already had Feedflare activated and are just adding a script, you may get an error message when you click Save.   Try changing one of the Official Feedflare settings at the same time as you add the script name.
      Note that the link to the file is not included in items that have already been sent out in your blog's feed, only in new feed items that are generated after the script is added.

      Tell your readers and subscribers how to access the file:

      Making the eBook available through your feed is only the first step in getting value from it.  You also need to:

      By edited by Felipe Micaroni Lalli
      [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
      Tell your subscribers that it's there and how to access it:
      These peole are already using a feed-reader or email subscription, they probably won't have difficulty clicking the link - once they know it's there.  But it may be worth telling them what type of software they need to use to open the file.

      Tell potential subscribers about it:
      Casual readers, now and in the future, need to know that if they subscribe, they will get access to the eBook.   How much detail you need to provide (eg telling them how to subscribe, explaining what subscribing means etc), depends on your blog's niche and how "subscription-savvy" your typical reader is.

      You may find that some readers need a very detailed explanation.  It's likely that there are some good articles about this on the net already, but I don't currently have any links - if you find one, please do leave a comment below.

      Acknowledgement and further info:

      This article was inspired by:
      • A post in ProBlogger which described how to implement a file give-away in a WordPress blog (where it is possible to upload files to the root directory, meaning that the process is a little simpler), and
      • A person in the Blogger Help Forum who asked how to do something similar in Blogger, at about the same time I read the Problogger article.
      Many thanks to them both.

      You can do more complicated things than this using FeedFlare:  see the Feedflare Developer's guide for more inforation.  Also, their first "Hello world" script is a useful tool if you need to diagnose if problems getting this approach to work are due to file-hosting or to the feed itself.

      Related Articles:

      Adding social networking tools to your Feedburner feeds

      File hosting options.

      Encourage new subscribers by enabling Feedburner's FeedCount button

      Adding social networking buttons to your Feed

      Adding Amazon Associates product links and banners to your blog.

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      1. Great tip! Thanks so much for this posting!

      2. Thanks! I would love to try this out, but I have a question that you might think is really stupid, but is there any easy way to convert a word document or something along those lines into an ebook, or some kind of easily accessible file that people can view but not edit?

        I just wanted to know because I've been working on this blog for a while where I've asked a few of my friends to write stories and such, and then we post them in different posts(so we can update them each week). A few of the stories are finished already, and even though the blog isn't up and running(well, it is, but we haven't started telling people about it and such, if you know what I mean) I would really like to add ebooks to the feedburner feed I've already set up, so people could download the stories.

        Again, I just need something to convert documents into ebooks(since all the writers save their stories on Word before they seperate them into posts)

        It would be so great if you could help!

        if you read this, please leave comment on my blog( or send me a message through Blogger or something(since I don't want to post my email here...)

        Thanks again!

      3. Good question Marcella

        The short answer is that you google "convert doc pdf" and use one of the tools that's returned. There are some issues with them: your files are effectively being shared with whoever is running the tool, sometimes there's a delay and sometimes the quality of graphics isn't great (eg if you look at the logo in the testing eBook at the bottom of my feed, it's a bit jagged). But they work. Or you could buy the Acrobat Writer software (expensive).

        I have a feeling that there's a long answer too ... I don't have time to research it at the moment, but it's definitely on my "possible articles" list.

      4. thank you so so much!

        I looked around a little, and finally found

        it totally saved my butt!!

        it's amazingly simple and fast, thanks for your suggestion, and I'll be sure to add it to my feed :)

      5. it doesn't work...
        when the subscriber gets the mail from feedburner, it doesn't get the second part with the link to click for the free ebook...

      6. Thank you so much for this wonderful tutorial. I am having trouble with step 2 and was hoping you could help. I keep getting this error code when I download my document:
        The XML page cannot be displayed
        Cannot view XML input using XSL style sheet. Please correct the error and then click the Refresh button, or try again later.
        A semi colon character was expected. Error processing resource 'file

        I'm not sure what I'm doing wrong. Any advice?
        Thanks so much!

      7. Thank you for this!!!!!!

        I still had a problem with google sites, but your tutorial really got me started- thanks again!!!

      8. Yeah the problem is that the person does not get the download link until they receive your next post via email, which could be a day or a week or whatever.

        People want it straight away, and it looks like there is no way around that with feedburner...

      9. Hi,

        Thanks for these details - exactly what I need, however I'm having difficulty getting it to work. I've done everything you said (using google docs for 1 and google sites for 2) and I am getting: "We could not find a valid Feedflare file at that location". Any ideas how to fix it?


        1. Mmm - when are you getting that message? Is the security on the file in Sites set so that anyone with the link can see it?

        2. I got the same message too. I get it once I click the Add New Flare button.

          I'm using google sites, and the security is set to Anyone with the link.

          On another site, it mentioned to add "" at the top. I did, but still no go...

          Any thoughts?

        3. Same problem here ... even though I set the sharing option to anyone with the link :(

      10. Wow, fantastic tip, thanks so much for sharing this. Really helpful!