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 it 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?


  1. I figured that was the case when I found this email in my Spam filter, but I decided it google it (not click the link, obviously) and appreciate finding such a thoughtful article. Thanks for doing the research for us.

  2. Thanks for the warning! I found it by Googling for MyFreeRead. I passed your analysis on to my Facebook page, with comment that since I'm a writer, I don't want visitors to think I'm really a marketer and have to endure a lot of unsolicited advertising.

  3. Our writers' group just got the same email. I was asked to check if this was an "OK" thing — THANK YOU! It
    took me about two minutes to check thru the Absolute Write Forums and get the answer. Needless to say, it will not be promoted to our members.

  4. Hi Victoria. I'm an eBook author, looking to sell my work. I went to the Kindle site like you suggested and found this on their Terms & Conditions page:

    "5.5 Grant of Rights. You hereby grant to each Amazon party, throughout the term of this Agreement, a nonexclusive, irrevocable, right and license to distribute Digital Books as described herein, directly and through third-party distributors, in all digital formats by all digital distribution means available, such right to include, without limitation, the right to: (a) reproduce and store Digital Books on one or more computer facilities, and reformat, convert and encode Digital Books; (b) display, market, transmit, distribute, sell and otherwise digitally make available all or any portion of Digital Books through Amazon Properties (as defined below), for customers and prospective customers to download, access, copy and paste, print, annotate and/or view online and offline, including on portable devices;……."

    Okay, as I read this, it seems to say that Amazon can sell my book through third-party distributors. I'm wondering how will I know what the sales figures are from their third-party people. I didn't see an info about where to find out who the 3rd party distributors will be once my book is offered for sale.

    Also, the last half of the paragraph seems to say that they have to right to slice and dice your book and put it out there for the world to see. The part about "cut and paste" especially caught my eye. As the sentence reads, customers are able to cut and paste my text. No way do I want them to be able to do that (for obvious reasons).

    Also, though it doesn't specifically say this, there seems to be an implication with the "reformat, convert and encode Digital Books" line that they would have the power to shuffle my book around, change a few words–…..see where I'm going with this? Would love to hear your comments. Thanks.

  5. A scam is a scam….writer's get most. I am no author. No poet. I'm a dad….I am J Alexander Fontaine.

    When "spam" learns to address me like this – we're in TROUBLE! 🙂

  6. I would seriously like to know who would settle for only $0.20 a download, when you can charge whatever you want elsewhere….
    It boggles the mind!

  7. I received that email just the other day I sent it straight to spam! what a joke.
    I have been reading about a magazine called “Popcorn” who are using writers work with out paying for it have you heard of this?

  8. I just stumbled across your blog and am kind of in love with it. 🙂

    On to the advocating of the devil…

    I used to run a site that worked with CPALead [but have since moved on to waters that involve less marketing and fewer headaches]. They're actually a pretty good company, and the tactic MyFreeRead is [poorly] employing is run-of-the-mill incentive marketing. It used to be iPods, TVs, computers, and so forth. With the popularity of those sites, a lot of small mom-and-pop operations are trying to incentivize everything from coins for Facebook farms to, well, eBooks.

    I'm not saying this is a good use of the incentive marketing method. It could quickly ruin a writer's reputation and is probably a doomed project. But, incentive marketing isn't quite the shark pool it initially seems to be.

  9. To be honest, I think that anything about taking surveys and whatnot from ads before being able to download the ebook should be a major red flag. Not only does it annoy the readers, but there are some malicious stuff when it comes to ad, and it can instantly destroy a computer. On top of that, it would make the reader angry and not a great fan of the author, now would it?

    With that being said, I would have laughed at because it just seems more like an advertisement in itself. I'm not going to jeopardize my computer for $.20.

  10. Thank you so much for this important information… I got that email myself and went to check it out. Nothing I want to be involved with. Again, thank you!

  11. Good grief. Do people actually think that putting a CPAlead thingy on their website is going to have positive results? I'd be NUTS to annoy my followers in that way! And anyone else would be nuts to annoy me in that way, too, because I'd vote with my mouse very quickly, and that website would never see me again!

  12. I always love the "Gee, imagine getting PAID for your writing!" line. The only writing I do that I don't get paid for are blog and forum posts. Who exactly are they aiming these things at, because it's obviously not professional writers. If you are commercially published you're getting paid. If you self-publish and do it well you're getting paid.

    Which makes one wonder who exactly would be looking to download the work on the site anyway.

  13. I'm so glad you posted about this. A writer friend alerted me to the 'scamminess' of the deal and I was going to blog aobut it. Now I have a really good, informative article to link to from my blog.

  14. I've been ambushed by those commercial sites. It always seems so simple, "click this" to get where you want to go and once you get those advertisements, it becomes a maze of nothing. I usually stop what I'm doing and get out.

  15. And let's not forget the times were you think you've found what you're looking for only to confronted by a popup that says "All you need to do is fill out a survey of your choice to get your free content" which is immediately followed up with "There are no surveys for your region." If you plan on running adspam, you should be consistent and make sure everyone gets in.

    I've been spending time in freelancing circles lately and it's amazing how little money people actually get paid. It's all about search engine optimization and bulk material for the lowest price without regard for actual quality — sickening.

  16. Very interesting. The ingenuity of people is never-ending. Thank you for engaging your ingenuity in a different way!

  17. Godblessya Victoria. Long may you watch over us. 🙂

    (And how the heck are you these days? I'll drop you a mail.)

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