Not Quite What It Appears

Earlier this week, I received an email from a company called, enticingly titled, “Authors: We Want Your e-Books & Articles!”

Dear Authors,

We want your e-books — and we’ll pay you for them!!

* e-Books
* Newsletters
* Excerpts from books
* Self-Published Articles

Now, there’s a new idea… actually get paid for writing your e-books and articles!

We’re launching a brand new website, where visitors can download free e-books on everything from running a business to fixing a car… and WE PAY OUR AUTHORS US $0.20 every time an e-book is successfully downloaded!

Gee, 20 cents a download–who could resist? Me, for one. I might have written this off as just one more random spam–but then I began hearing from writers who’d gotten the very same email offer. The volume of questions began to suggest a sizeable spam campaign, which always gets my Writer Beware radar twitching.

Visiting the MyFreeRead website, I learned that “ works with a leading cost-per-action ad network. Visitors simply take a fun online survey and look at a few ads, then they can download their favorite e-book ABSOLUTELY FREE! All offers are optional, and visitors never have to buy anything.”

(Per Wikipedia, cost-per-action “is an online advertising pricing model, where the advertiser pays for each specified action (a purchase, a form submission, and so on) linked to the advertisement.”)

I searched MyFreeRead’s website, but nowhere is the “leading CPA ad network” named. So I emailed Lisa Davis, MyFreeRead’s Coordinator, to ask. Within minutes, I received this response:

That’s confidential. Why should it matter?

Well, I wrote back, because of concerns about malware, tracking cookies, and the like. There’s a lot of that stuff about, and I wouldn’t want to think my readers were targets.

I wasn’t entirely surprised when I didn’t hear back.

MyFreeRead appears still to be building its catalog, so there are currently no actual ebooks available for download. However, there’s a sample download page, and if you click the “Download” button, a window pops up with a choice of surveys. Hovering my mouse over these surveys, I discovered that their source is (warning: if you click that link you will be ambushed by audio), “a performance-based, online advertising network that develops technologies to promote incentive-based advertisements across niche websites.”

In other words, as a website owner offering products to the public, you can sign up to become a CPAlead “Publisher,” which enables you to create a “gateway” that forces would-be consumers of your products to take a survey (examples: “Which Twilight Character Are You?” “Do You Shop at Target?” “Want a Free BMW?”), and then watch ads from CPAlead’s advertiser clients, before they can download your product.

You can see why this would be popular with website owners. Scroll down to the bottom of this blog post, and you’ll see some examples of the kinds of payouts CPAlead provides for each completed survey–from a high of $4.50 (for “Win a Dell Laptop”) to a low of 45 cents (for “Can You Spot the Frogs?”). This extremely long discussion thread at the Digital Point Forums contains testimonials from people who claim to have earned substantial income with CPAlead. Plus, per CPAlead’s Terms and Conditions, you can set yourself up like a multi-level marketing scheme, recruiting “sub-publishers” to distribute CPAlead’s offers and surveys, and, presumably, to give you a cut of their income.

But how do consumers respond? Not well. Google, and you’ll find numerous conversations about how to block it. Worse, on the discussion boards at Web of Trust, a safe-surfing utility, there are complaints about phishing, malware, and adware associated with CPAlead’s advertisers.

It seems clear that is not an epublishing endeavor, but a way for Ms. Davis to make money via an advertising network. The 20 cents that authors are paid for downloads will, in many cases, barely make a dent in her profit. Authors, is worth 20 cents to you to annoy your readers in this way? Especially when you can self-publish to the Kindle, and set your own price?