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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