Harvard Business Review Continues To Innovate On The eBook Front; Offers 'Shared Pricing' On Recent Publication

from the don't-bogart-that-info dept

Recently we ran a post discussing Harvard Business Review's decision to go DRM-free and platform independent. The author behind the original post, Joshua Gans, suggested that HBR's ebook policy could open it up to more innovative offerings that rewarded both the publisher and the authors for selling their books through HBR:

I have my own eBook coming out with HBR Press in a very short time. I’d love it to be the case that they decided to offer the book on their site with an explicit ‘sharing’ option. For instance, the normal ‘don’t share’ this book might cost the same as Amazon while the ‘sharing’ option may be somewhat higher but would say allow you to assign ‘ownership’ of the book to another person as well.

Gans' book, “Information Wants to be Shared,” is out, and true to his word (and the title), there's a sharing option. It's a good idea, but one that is easier said than done. Fortunately, HBR was up for the challenge:

Now the first, snarky remark somebody makes when you release a book about sharing information is that it is kind of hard to share eBooks…Nonetheless, I believe it was very important to take that challenge head on and, as it turned out, the folks at Harvard Business Review Press were more than agreeable to some experimentation.

The idea was that when a reader recommends a book to someone else they are performing an extremely valuable service to authors/publishers. The problem is that, while with physical books, lending between friends can perform that service, trying the same thing for eBooks makes a mockery of the technology.

Obviously, once you've taken DRM and platform dependence out of the picture, sharing can become too easy, so to speak. And while Barnes & Noble and Amazon have certain books “lending enabled,” the “lending” is done in the most literal (pretty much “physical”) sense, with the copy vanishing from one device and appearing on the lendee's. Gans was looking for something that split the difference between “sharing” and “recommending” which would make it easier for those on the receiving end to pick up a “no strings attached” copy of their own. Selling through HBR made the sharing part easier, but setting a price was a bit trickier, leading to this compromise:

So here is the experiment they are running. If you buy my book (the price is $4.99) from HBR directly (which is DRM free and multi-format so it can be read on any device) or if you buy it from Amazon, Apple, B&N etc, you can flip to the last page of the book. You will see there a coupon. If you send that coupon to a friend, they can download the book from HBR (and HBR only) for just $0.99 (in its multi-format DRM free form).

The lowered price should make the “second-hand” purchase a no-brainer, especially if the coupon is sent their way by someone whose opinion they respect. The advantage for Gans (and HBR) lies in the potential addition to readership and the data collected during the experiment. But even if it turns into a publisher's worst nightmare, there's still plenty to like about it.

Will this work? It is hard to know. HBR will keep stats on this and hopefully I can share them in the future. Are there risks? Absolutely. All my readers could form a collective and potentially buy one copy for $4.99 and then a million for $0.99. A disaster! Actually, no that sounds pretty darn good to me. (I won’t speak for my publisher).

As Gans notes, he'll be tracking the results with interest, and hopefully HBR will let him share the data. As the ebook field continues to grow, any information on pricing experiments will be very useful for up-and-coming writers. 

Filed Under: , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Harvard Business Review Continues To Innovate On The eBook Front; Offers 'Shared Pricing' On Recent Publication”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Anonymous Coward says:

All my readers could form a collective and potentially buy one copy for $4.99 and then a million for $0.99. A disaster! Actually, no that sounds pretty darn good to me.

That’s a key point that so many just don’t (or won’t) get. They this outcome as the alternative to selling 1,000,001 copies all at $4.99. When the real alternative may be selling only 2000 copies at $4.99.

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re:

They this outcome as the alternative to selling 1,000,001 copies all at $4.99.

I’m sorry, but I think you accidently a word.

However, I don’t see how selling 1 book for $4.99 and a million for $0.99 is any different than selling 1 book for $4.99 and 2000 copies for $4.99, other than maybe the book should have been priced at $0.99 to begin with (obviously the publisher/author will see less income,) I believe what the key point you are missing is that the consumer may be more likely to buy at $0.99 and less likely to buy at $4.99, so it is likely that a book priced at $0.99 will attract more impulse buyers than a book priced at $4.99.

Mike Russell (profile) says:

Electronic media is leading us back to the patron model.

There’s no DRM on the planet that’s going to stand up for long. The only real prayer that artists and authors have to make money from their work now is through a modern form of patronage. Sites like Kickstarter are a good way to help them do that. The bulk model we’re talking about here is absolutely the answer. If you can get well-known through word of mouth, the people who care about your work really will pay you for it. Just look at what Louis CK did with his DVD special; he made way more money than if he’d gone through Comedy Central or somewhere else.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...
Older Stuff
16:10 David Braben, Once Angry At Used Games, Now A New Business Model Embracer (33)
18:40 Artists Embracing, Rather Than Fighting, BitTorrent Seeing Amazing Results (10)
15:41 Vodo's Big Brother Bundle Shows How Bundles Can Improve The 'Pay What You Want' Concept (12)
23:06 Price Elasticity Can Work: Dropping Ebook Price To $1 Catapulted Year-Old Book Onto NYT Best Seller List (58)
16:03 The Good And Bad In Chaotic eBook Pricing (35)
05:18 Game Creator Finds That Knockoffs Can't Match His Awesome Game (33)
23:09 The Value Of Kickstarter: Connecting With Fans On-The-Fly (18)
10:02 Massive Growth In Independent Musicians & Singers Over The Past Decade (101)
23:54 Cool New Platform For Supporting Artists: Patreon, From Jack Conte (23)
05:46 A New Hope: How Going Free To Play Brought Redemption To Star Wars MMO (48)
11:16 There Is No Logic To The Argument That Zach Braff Shouldn't Use Kickstarter (105)
06:00 When Startups Need More Lawyers Than Employees, The Patent System Isn't Working (55)
03:14 Hitchhiker's Fan-Site Started By Douglas Adams Shows Why Authors Shouldn't Panic Over Derivative Works (27)
09:21 Patents As Weapons: How 1-800-CONTACTS Is Using The Patent System To Kill An Innovative Startup (54)
07:19 How EA's 'Silent Treatment' Pushed The SimCity Story Into The Background (55)
13:30 Deftones Guitarist: People Who Download Our Music Are Fans, They're Welcome To Do So (29)
13:10 Macklemore Explains Why Not Being On A Label Helped Him Succeed (29)
03:45 Successful Self-Published Ebook Authors Sells Print & Movie Rights For $1 Million, But Keeps Digital Rights To Himself (43)
11:53 Musician Alex Day Explains How He Beat Justin Timberlake In The Charts Basically Just Via YouTube (52)
00:09 Publishers Show Yet Again How To Make Money By Reducing The Price To Zero (42)
20:13 Flattr Makes It Easier Than Ever To Support Content Creators Just By Favoriting Tweets (61)
16:03 Case Study: Band Embraces Grooveshark And Catapults Its Career (21)
19:39 Amanda Palmer On The True Nature Of Connecting With Fans: It's About Trust (131)
16:03 Kickstarter-Funded Movie Wins Oscar For Best Documentary (89)
13:41 It's Fine For The Rich & Famous To Use Kickstarter; Bjork's Project Failed Because It Was Lame (20)
17:34 Connecting With Fans In Unique Ways: Band Sets Up Treasure Hunt To Find Fan-Submitted Sounds In New Album (10)
07:27 Just As Many Musicians Say File Sharing Helps Them As Those Who Say It Hurts (131)
20:00 Skateboard Legend Stacy Peralta Demonstrates His Latest Trick: Cashing In By Going Direct-To-Fan (13)
23:58 Wallet Maker Shows Everyone How To Make Their Own Awesome Wallet (16)
11:27 $274 Million Raised Via Kickstarter In 2012 (8)
More arrow