Are Pay-As-You-Go eBooks a Good Idea?


Gizmodo (“Would You Buy Ebooks on a Pay-As-You-Read Basis?”) reports on a start-up with an intriguing approach to ebook pricing.

“The idea is simple: instead of paying for a book up front … you instead pay a small fee for each page you read. Only read a quarter of a book? No problem: you’ve only paid for a quarter of it anyway. Of course, it’s unlikely that such a model would ever result in big discounts, but that’s the financial trade-off.”

BookRiot (“Should EBooks Be Pay-As-You-Go?”) weighs in with some additional thoughts. On the one hand, the opportunity to avoid buyers remorse is certainly a win-win for us readers and consumers —

“But would it be good for publishers, authors, and the future of books? I don’t know. I think it’s certainly worth a try, though, and there’s useful stuff to be learned from how far readers get into a book before they abandon it. In the present “buy a book before you read it” model, publishers don’t really have to care if readers like or finish the book–they just have to get you interested enough to want to buy it. If, hypothetically, Total BooX’s attempt to invert the model was successful in moving all ebook sales to the pay-as-you-go plan, publishers and authors would have to produce material that kept readers engaged all the way through in order to earn a full payday. Could they afford to do that? What would happen if authors started tailoring books to what they knew of readers’ habits and interests? Would the overall quality of books improve and lead to an increase in reader satisfaction?”

These are all good questions. In general, diversity in the marketplace is always a good thing — and the idea of giving book readers another option than a $14.99 ebook is certainly worth a try.

Lots of people expected ebook prices to come down (it hasn’t happened, New York Times: “Little Sign of a Predicted E-Book Price War”), and why should there be? Ebook sales are robust, so there is little incentive to offer lower prices at the moment.

Speaking of diversity, TechCrunch also reported earlier this year on another startup venture, with similar aims that has gained some traction with publishers: “ValoBox Launches Pay-As-You-Go eBook Offering; O’Reilly Media, Guardian Books & Other Publishers Sign On.”

TotalBooX (“BooX” as in “books”) and ValoBox, besides having terrible, terrible names, present a creative approach to the large and vexing question of how to make ebooks: a) affordable for readers and b) sustainable for publishers. I hope pay-as-you-go does work. I’ve been an advocate of a subscription-based ebook model for some time now.

This all reminded me of the Stephen King experiment which is something of a primogenitor for these new ebook pricing ideas.


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I run the ThinkLab at the University of Cambridge, and research digital habits, productivity, and wellbeing.

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