Reading—though triumphant in withstanding the wave of the digital age—is not what it used to be. 
That became clear to Written Word Media Founder and CEO Ricci Wolman when she helped her mother market a book she wrote. Wolman realized there weren’t easy ways for authors to build audiences—rarely did the readers flow in once a book went for sale on Amazon. And this was especially true for ebooks. 
Inspired back in 2011, Wolman began to dream up a series of ebook-focused websites—Freebooksy, Bargainbooksy, RedFeatherRomance, NewInBooks and A Year of Books—each with a two-fold goal: making it easier for readers to find ebooks on a daily basis, while supplying tools for independent and self-published authors to generate and boost readership of their books. Three of those sites have launched in the last six months and 100,000 new readers have registered for the sites, a 57 percent uptick.
Digital reading is a concept that has come to fruition only within the past decade, and has left print publishing companies in a limbo of uncertainty about their future if they don’t start producing ebooks. 
The demand for ebook databases is expanding rapidly in a world where almost half of readers under 30 years of age report reading at least one ebook in the past year
But the reading experience isn’t the only thing that’s changed. Ebook readers have started doing something out of the ordinary—they’ve gradually moved away from mainstream books and started supporting new independent authors. 
From January to May, after ebook prices raised, daily ebook sales from the big five publishers have fallen 17 percent, says a recent report that collected sales data from 200,000 of Amazon’s bestselling ebooks. 
Self-published authors are moving into this lost market share. The report adds that self-published authors’ daily revenue has increased 12.4 percent since January. 
The changes in the ebook market have come at just the right time for Wolman and her husband, Ferol VernonThe pair have combined Wolman’s marketing expertise and Vernon’s tech experience to build and maintain the five websites. And as of this month, these platforms now operate under one brand: Written Word Media
The sites are a dream for ebook readers, as they can download various genres of ebooks on their Kindle, Nook, iPad or Kobo. Wolman says that the sites are all “attacking readers’ niches pretty well so far.” 
In addition to that, three of the sites house helpful tools for self-published authors, providing a space to get their books into the hands of different reader demographics, which are different for each website. The websites also aid smaller, independent authors and more obscure publishers who want higher readership of their books. 
But what has gotten Written Word Media the most attention is its free ebook approach—the hallmark of the brand’s first and most popular site, Freebooksy, which launched in February 2011. 
Written Word Media’s Beginning—Freebooksy 
Wolman’s original idea to provide a database for free ebooks has proven to be a smart one. 
In fact, Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords (a platform that publishes and distributes ebooks), put out a survey last year examining over $25 million in customer purchases through ebook retailers. According to data derived from iBooks downloads, free ebooks generated 39 times more downloads on average during the survey period than books at any price, says a blog post revealing the survey’s findings. 
The survey found that the free book model remains one of the most powerful book marketing tools, making it easier for readers to take a risk on an author or brand that is unknown or untrusted. 
Freebooksy does this, providing free ebooks of various genres for readers to find in a quick and easy way. The website updates with a new, free book at least once daily and sends subscribers an email with the links to download it. 
The site sends an email every two weeks alerting readers of Zuckerberg’s newest pick. The website is also updated with Zuckerberg’s thoughts on each book, as well as others’ reactions to his picks on the “Buzz” page. The “Author Reaction” page displays how authors responded to the news that he picked their book to read in the challenge. 
Though it’s unique, A Year of Books does share a similar goal to the other websites. 
The Current State of Written Word Media 
One theme that connects the five sites is that they all make it easier for readers to find new books. 
Written Word Media has and continues to achieve that goal as it grows in users. The brand has reached an audience of over 525,000, of which over 275,000 receive book recommendations through email based on their taste preferences. That’s up from 175,000 registered readers in December 2014. 
In addition, the brand has served over 10,000 self-published authors and has worked with three of the big five major publishers, as well as a long list of smaller publishers and publicists to promote independent authors and their books. 
Authors want to discover new readers and that’s how sites like Freebooksy come into the equation, says non-fiction author Jim Kukral
“They provide a direct pipeline to readers looking for new books they can devour,” he remarks. Since 2010, Kukral has self-published eight business and marketing-related non-fiction books. 

He says that self-publishing is all about getting your book in front of the right audience and that Freebooksy has consistently delivered results for himself and the authors in his network for their self-published books. 

More broadly, Written Word Media has also served New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Melissa Foster, helping her get reader attention for her books, which were also self-published. 

Foster writes award-winning contemporary romance, as well as other women’s fiction genres. Over 1.5 million copies of her books have been sold. 

“I love the worlds I create and the readers I connect with,” she says. She has used Freebooksy in conjunction with other promotions to give her books a boost when she ran free promotions. 

She highly recommends Freebooksy, since it has always worked for her and the staff is professional and business-minded. Foster believes that, with book sales, exposure is more important than price promotions. Freebooksy helps her with that public exposure. 

“I try to be as visible to as many readers as possible, on and offline,” she adds. 

Written Word Media’s mission—to empower authors and publishers to reach their audience—aligns well with Foster’s efforts. 

The Future of Written Word Media 

Since its humble beginning in 2011, Written Word Media has landed on its feet, growing into a useful tool for all members of the literary realm: readers and authors. Wolman is proud that the company has been able to build reader audiences in a cost-effective way.

“We have active and engaged audiences and we provide an incredible service to authors and publishers to get buzz and conversation, which differentiates them,” she says. 

Written Word Media recently moved from Carrboro to American Underground @Main in Durham, a space funded by the NC IDEA grant win. Wolman and Vernon were drawn to Durham’s energy and tech scene.  
They think it’ll help attract new staff, and add momentum to the company. The immediate future goal is  to “grow NewInBooks and launch additional sites that cater to different readers’ niches,” Wolman says. 

Vernon adds with a smile, “Long term, we plan to replicate the Written Word Media model over and over to reach almost every reader.”