The Next eBook Evolution: Pay As You Read eBooks

from the try-before-you-buy dept

We talk a great deal here at Techdirt about eBooks, their pricing, DRM, and book piracy, but sometimes lost in all of the discussion is the actual starting point for all of these trends, which is that paying any substantial amount of money for a digital product that might later turn out to be disappointing sucks. Many forward-thinking folks have realized this notion and looked at piracy as something of a “try before you buy” vetting system, choosing to embrace piracy as a solution. Specifically for eBooks, another method for combatting this is to have shorter reads that cost less, theoretically diminishing the risk. They're both good and sensible efforts, but they skirt around the main issue rather than tackling it head on. There might now, however, be a new way to offer readers the ability to try out books before buying them completely.

TotalBooX is one company trying out what they're calling a “pay as you go” eBook model. The idea is that you can pay per page rather than buying the entire book upfront. That way, if you find that you don't enjoy the first 50 pages of a book, you mitigate the risk of being out the entire cost of the book by only having bought those first 50 pages.

With TotalBooX, the overall price of the book doesn’t change. But the users have a chance to save some money if they are not satisfied with the product. The platform already contains 10,000 eBooks, and will be available on iOS and online. First-timers are greeted with $2 worth of free pages, but from then on, the balance of the account needs to be topped up in advance.

“We are trying to rid the world from outdated, expensive ritual of buying a book before you read it,” says [founder Yoarv] Lorch. On TotalBooX, sharing an interesting eBook is as easy as drag-and-dropping it into a friend’s account, and there’s no need to enter any login details or payment information. Add social media integration, the platform hopes to appeal to real book lovers.

We'll have to see if this gains any real traction, but it highlights the wonder of what you can do in providing customers more options with a digital product. As Lorch himself notes later, this kind of model was previously impossible because of the physical nature of books and the costs associated with them. With digital content however, offering something like this not only makes sense, but now that I've seen it I have to wonder what the hell took so long. This is exactly what eBooks do best over their dead-tree brethren. Still, it's one thing to build it, it's another to get people interested. In a digital world where so many people expect free samples, charging for those samples may be a turn-off at first, even if it's much, much more than a normal “sample” of the work. Plus, adding on the “mental transaction costs” of whether or not it’s worth a penny or three to turn the page may be a burden that many users don’t want. Still, giving active readers the chance to pay for exactly as much of a book as they read seems like a workable idea.

As with all things eBooks, however, innovative folks like Lorch need parternships with authors and publishers along with interested customers to really make this work. I'm not sure if traditional publishers will see this type of model as something to embrace or as a threat to their profit lines, but I would imagine self-published authors will embrace this more easily, as they have most other literary innovations. If that indeed proves the case, we likely will be able to add this as another innovation that will push readers away from traditional publishers and towards the self-published author. On the other hand, if literary publishers want to get out front on this, they could help provide readers with an immensely useful service that shows off their authors' talents.

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Comments on “The Next eBook Evolution: Pay As You Read eBooks”

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The Mighty Buzzard (profile) says:

No thank you. When I buy a book, I take the book, you take the money, and there ends the entirety of our interaction.

I’m not interested in interactivity of any kind in my books. Not even if it saves me a few bucks on shitty books that I’d DNF. I don’t care for my books to report anything back to anyone for any reason.

anonymouse says:

Re: Re:

Well said.

This is just an excuse to become more involved in our reading habits, when i buy something it belongs to me whether it is a book in physical form or an ebook.

If i wanted to read the first few pages i would go onto a site and read them, it is normally rather easy to see if someone can write if they have the first chapter available, now imagine that , release the first chapter of every book and let people read it free, no extra drm or restrictions needed no need to create a new model that will just mean paying more for nothing, well for the first few pages.

I understand that ebook publishers are looking for new business models but the first thing they need to look at is price, i am not prepared to pay the prices they are asking, absolutely not , especially as they seem to think they have the right to control what i do with my book once i have purchased it.

The only reason i only download free books from amazon is that there have been too many stories about people downloading and paying for content just for it to be deleted from their collection and either a refund given or even at times no refund given.
Get rid of drm and cut the prices down to ?1 at the most and i will buy, but no way am i buying something and leaving control of that something with the person i purchased it from, that is for those that do not understand what drm is all about and that is sad as it is those that probably read the most , the elderly that do not understand how drm can hurt them.

Boom (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“Would finally take care of those nutjobs that read the last chapter first.”
?No! For your kind information. I’ve just ‘checked it out’ that TotalBoox even allows you buy an arbitrary span of reading at an arbitrary location in the book. In other words, you can select the pages at random. E.g. in a Crime Thriller, you can discover the criminal even before the Detective did (by first going to the last chapter to just see who is getting arrested by the Police).

Eddie Pena says:

Hello, I am Eddie Pena, a very accomplished Michael Masnick impersonator.

I think this idea of technology and Pay-as-you-read eBooks is interesting, because in the past, distributors were paid for the labor involved with publishing.

Also, distributors had the ability to sell books to libraries and schools. The evolution of Paid-For-Content would have to also take into consideration the need for promotional copies and such.

My guess however, is the idea behind pay-as-you-read will result in some creative way to bilk people out of additional funds when copies normally sold to libraries and schools are displaced.

The idea of pay-as-you-read can also be fixed through summaries (Cliff Notes), and comments as well.

McCrea (profile) says:

Would finally take care of those nutjobs that read the last chapter first.

“Students, turn to page 156…”
“Can I borrow your credit card?”

(Hey, that one might work out. Hate buying a $300 textbook and only covering 20% of the material)

Wonder if it can keep up with speed readers? “How fast can you read?” “About $3.50”

Dionaea (profile) says:

Re: Library

Yeah, right… You’re forgetting that unless you have access to a really large library or only read books popular at the time, the chances are large that you won’t find a lot of the things you’d be interested in reading in a library. Especially foreign books in the language in which they were written are difficult to find.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Yes he did

Actually, I think he’s referring to The Plant, which was ultimately unfinished due to dropping levels of donation for the 2nd and 3rd parts (something that annoyed me greatly, as I only found out about its existence well after the experiment had ended, and I’m not even sure if it was regionally restricted to stop me from paying to begin with). Perhaps the crowdfunding model just wasn’t mature enough at the time and he’d have a better experience now.

With The Green Mile, it was a serialised novel released in 6 parts, and he was around halfway through writing the entire series when the first part was released. IIRC, it was always intended to be 6 parts and released in a monthly format as a creative experiment to mirror the way Charles Dickens worked, but it was a rather different model.

One of the things I like about King is that he’s willing to experiment both with release methods (the CD ROM package F13 that originally contained the only available way to read Everything’s Eventual, the eBook-only Riding The Bullet and UR), although I often think they’re done in ways that are flawed at best.

Anonymous Coward says:

This is the silliest thing ever. It’s trying to solve a problem it only thinks exists.

In today’s world publishers send out hundreds of ARC copies to the general public asking for a review on whichever site ran that particular promotion in return. Amazon, Goodreads, whatever. Before a book ever land on a file server I get a pretty good idea if it’s something I’d enjoy from those reviews. Not perfect, but I’ve been reading between the lines long enough now that it’s pretty close.

My problem is never if I’ll finish a book, it’s the fact that ebooks are STILL more expensive than paperbacks in most cases and are sometimes higher priced than hardbacks.

Solve that problem. Not this non-problem.

DisappointedCommenter says:

Re: Re:

Basically, it’s turning into a Pay-Per-View concept. It makes sense… Liberty Media is a major investor in Pay-Per-View concept, and even recently acquired Barnes & Noble, shortly after the Nook was made available.

I guess this is why it’s important to reform copyright law in such a way that culture doesn’t have a toll-booth every 1/2 mile.

Smoley says:

Gimme NetFlix for Books Instead

I’d rather have a Netflix subscription model where I read as much as I want for a monthly fee. If the book isn’t interesting, I return it and download something else.

I’m with the others in that I don’t want anyone tracking my reading habits. BN and Amazon do this already and share the info with publishers without the consent or ability to opt-out of their customers. It’s one of the reasons that I’ve ditched my Nook and have gone back to paper books. I buy them used, and resell them or give them away and the authors and publishers won’t make a dime off of me until they sort out their eBook price models.

Josh in CharlotteNC (profile) says:

Re: Gimme NetFlix for Books Instead

I’d rather have a Netflix subscription model where I read as much as I want for a monthly fee.

That is a service I could get behind, and I’m someone who much prefers the dead-tree books over reading one on a screen.

I’m not completely against it, but I worry about a pay-per-page model. Many great books start off slow, or have long stretches of seemingly little action (e.g. The Lord of the Rings – even though I love it, I still tend to scan through much of the early parts of the Fellowship and an entire half of Two Towers). And I worry about authors/publishers trying to game that system – putting all the good stuff up front, with the rest of the book just a lot of filler.

Spaceman Spiff (profile) says:

Yeah, but...

If they don’t provide a minimum amount of free “pages”, then I could care less about this model! Let me read the first couple of chapters. If the book hasn’t captured me by then, I am not interested! I refuse to pay good $$ for something that isn’t of interest to me! I can go to B&N and read the hard-copy for awhile (at no cost other than to drive to the store) to see if I want to buy it. I INSIST on the same ability for e-books as well… Listen up publishers. You are going to lose a good customer if you don’t deal with this properly! Between me and my wife, we own a medium-sized library of hard-copy books, and are going digital in a serious fashion – I own at least 200 e-books (non-drm-encumbered) that I have purchased with cold, hard credit-card cash!

Gene Poole says:

I see this being a problem that the content holders will resist, in the same way that the RIAA resisted single track purchases on the iTunes store. If people are buying per page, and consistently not finishing the book, authors will be missing out on income they would have otherwise acquired had people been forced to purchase the entire book up front. There will be more pressure to deliver, and keep delivering, out of fear that readers will walk away and take their pennies with them. Critics will hail it as the downfall of great literature and plot development.

And, of course, the flourishing of ADHD. It’s a perfect fit for our soundbite-instant gratification culture.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Hard to say….it could also bring back the serial as a popular form of literature. People not finishing books would cause a loss of income for novels, true. Conversely, though, plenty of people would buy the next chapter of a book when they would never dream of buying a 1400-page novel. Historically, that’s been a wildly successful business model — think Dickens, Dumas, or Melville. For that matter, how many people would watch Downton Abbey if the only way to get it was to buy the boxed set?

Zakida Paul says:

Re: Re:

“There will be more pressure to deliver, and keep delivering, out of fear that readers will walk away and take their pennies with them.”

That is a good thing. The digital market place is filled with wonderful work so if an author (or musician or film maker, for that matter) is to be successful, they need to stand out from the crowd. I have absolutely no problem with that as it is good for literature and the wider area of culture.

That One Guy (profile) says:

I'll pass

For an idea like this to work, it would essentially tie you, even more than any other ebook DRM system I can think of, to that service, as the only way they could keep track of how many pages you had read, and therefor figure out how much you owe them, would be for the book to reside on their servers/computer, and have the ‘customer’ connect to read.

Another possible trouble is when do you get charged? I would guess it’s like a prepaid phone card, where you pay for X number of ‘pages’, and you pay more to ‘recharge’ your account, which would get old the very first time you found yourself having to refill your account mid-book.

Also, what happens if you want to re-read a particular book, or end up paying the ‘full’ price for a given book? Do you then own the thing(or at least ‘own’ it as much as you can with a system like that), or is it still a license, and one that can end up giving you grief later on?

In the end I think I much prefer how Smashwords handles the ‘will I like this book enough to want to buy it?’ idea, where you can download a percentage of an ebook(usually in the 10-20% range) completely free, and try a book out that way, no risk.

PaulT (profile) says:

Yeah, count me in the camp who’s not buying this kind of thing. This strikes me as being a way to rip consumers off with variable pricing (want the last act? That’ll cost you double) or to enable charging multiple times for the same content (read a book twice? Ooops that just cost you more than merely buying it in the first place).

It also goes against the way people usually obtain and consume media. For example, I like to keep a library of media for use when and where I wish. I have a huge backlog of music, games, movies and book that I’ve obtained when I come across them, get them in sales or just happen to have a larger than average amount of disposable income. I then consume them when I wish – multiple times if I enjoy them.

With this model, when do I get charged? Is it when I read a page? What happens if I’m skint that weekend and I just want to read a few books instead of going to the pub? Have I prepaid for a number of pages, or will I just find myself unable to read until the next payday, when I have better things to do anyway?

Add those factors to the way in which this model is hostile both to the concept of “ownership” (and I definitely don’t like the idea of everything being rented at the behest of some 3rd party who can shut you off at any time if a ransom isn’t paid), and will inevitably enforce DRM, restricting choice and availability for consumers.

Who knows, this might have a market. But, like those DVDs that self-destruct after a number of days, this seems to be a model that has every benefit for publishers and none for consumers – and such plans are doomed to failure, especially in a market where cheap and free books are already plentiful. I certainly don’t see how $2 for 50 pages (as the article seems to suggest) beats out the full 20p books I picked up for my Kindle or the many other full books at less than that price.

Zakida Paul says:

“paying any substantial amount of money for a digital product that might later turn out to be disappointing sucks.”

How is it any different to paying any substantial amount of money for a physical product that might later turn out to be disappointing?

I think I will ignore the pay as you read option as the books I read are really quite cheap (usually around ?4) and then their are the daily free offers on Indie books.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“How is it any different to paying any substantial amount of money for a physical product that might later turn out to be disappointing?”

The only real difference I can see is resale value – that is, if you buy a physical book you don’t like, you can usually sell or trade it in for something better. Whereas, an ebook has no resale possibility so it’s a sunk cost whether you like it or not.

I certainly don’t think this scheme is a workable solution to that problem (simply pricing the eBooks cheaper would be better – people are more willing to take chances at lower costs, and won’t feel so ripped off if they don’t like it).

“I think I will ignore the pay as you read option as the books I read are really quite cheap (usually around ?4) and then their are the daily free offers on Indie books.”

I personally refuse to pay more than ?5 for an eBook. Between Amazon’s daily deals, the regular 20p and free books that are interesting and the Humble Bundle, I’ve probably got 30-40 books in the last year with a maximum price of around ?1.19. I’ve only bought one book significantly more expensive, around ?5, and that was just a snap purchase when I found something I wanted not long after I got the Kindle, and the paperback was 3 times the price. I’ll ignore any book over ?5 – even from my favourite authors – as a digital file just isn’t worth that much.

I’m definitely not sold on this idea, especially if the $2 for 50 pages suggested above is the price point – most of my ebooks are cheaper than that to begin with. In fact, most of the physical books I own are cheaper!

special interesting says:

I have a few requirements for that which I read:

1) It is anonymous. No registered club savings, no credit card or bank card and no zip code or anything answered upon purchase. It is a real book not a nookm, zook, i-zap or whatever clever spy device you devised. This work must actually be in my possession not just a weak link to a temporary commercial website due to be bankrupt (and sell all your personal info to some random buyer). Reason as you like: Big bother, foreign spies, commercial spying like Google or Amazon, whatever… its pointless to subject oneself to any such nonsense.
2) No electronic account that allows deleting what I purchased (Amazon electronically recalling 1984 by Orwell is good example) as I fully expect to give my kids what I bought later on regardless of your licensing scandals. Of course this means no DRM whatsoever.
3) Am able to re-read what I have. I want to include it in my personal library of which also is passed on to my kids or whomever I name in a will. No time limits, number of read limits especially number of pages read, no limits whatsoever period.

Satisfying my requirements needs a way to spend money on-line anonymously. A simple paperback satisfies all of this. Used bookstores seem increasingly attractive.

I do have a box or two of books purchased of which after a few chapters have lost interest in. So what. Since they are physically still there can pick up where left off some other time.

Great comment Pixelation: ?The first 756 pages are $.01 each. The last page is $1000.?

Josef Anvil (profile) says:

Public Domain

Fuck it. I’ve given up fighting the IP industries. Since they feel that every new physical medium requires a new purchase, I give up. I agree with them. So I will now purchase all my content on whatever new physical medium they come up with.

But just like with patents, the internet is magical. So I’m considering everything digital as public domain. So as long as I keep my content consumption on the interwebs, its free.

Note to the industry: No need to apologize for DRM, I’ll work around it myself.

Jay (profile) says:


This is not a great service at all. Just of the top of my head, I can think of ways to make a great website:

1) Free pdf = reduced discount on the hardcover book. Maybe hidden in the book is a random code for a discount in the first thirty days.

2) Author participation = sales. Look, if I can, I would love to learn more about a subject by becoming involved with the author. Why not extend this instead of micro transactions?

3) New ideas. This is a retread. This was tried in the 90s and no, people prefer having options on what they read and when they read it. That option is a library. All this will do is piss off people enough to go to better services.

Anonymous Coward says:

Nghtmarem in edicuation

Required books will only be available ob a iPad. You pay for every page turn. You pay for every page access, therefore its costs you to revise material. The Application only shows one page at a time. The index is a set of pages, the contents are a set of pages, no sidebar contents listing. The book is designed to generate extra page turns as in see diagram on page 4, return to previous page etc.
Under the terms of service and the CFAA, taking a screen-shot or a photograph of a page is a felony worth serious jail time.

Joe (profile) says:

My issue with ebooks

I don’t mind the risk of buying a bad book. My issue is the inability to lend MOST ebooks as well as the price not reflecting the cost of a good.

Can anyone explain to me why an ebook can cost more than the mass market paperback edition? Add this to the fact that that ebook is not shareable with a friend and it seems like a large premium to save space on my bookshelf.

I’m guessing it costs more because that books word of mouth is truncated so they need to make up for diminished future sales.

Lower the price to align with actual cost savings, and allow multiple shares (one at a time of course) and ebooks can sell better than regular books.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: My issue with ebooks

two reasons:
1. because they can
2. because -for the most part- ereaders are a luxury item, so the bidness model assumes ereader buyers have money to burn…
while i know 2. is NOT universally true, it is true enough, i bet… i’m guessing there are richer folks than us lowly techdirtians who own ereaders, who load up their ereaders with a TON of books, whether they ever read them or not, is another matter…

but -judging by the loutish author dreary deary- they don’t actually care if you READ the books, just that you pay through the nose for them…
(IF dreary deary actually cared whether people READ his books, he’d be pro-library…)

art guerrilla
aka ann archy

Anonymous Coward says:

What they don’t have is an universal way of payment.

Paypal showed everyone it could be made, now it is time to move on and find something simpler that is acceptable to everyone, which needs to be safe and anonymous(or pseudo-anonymous at the very least) just like cash.

This is why music and writers are not selling enough because their public target doesn’t have an easy payment system that is painless.

Safe, it needs to be something that you do one transaction and you never see the guy again and he can’t reach you, so he can’t hack into your account and take everything, maybe a 2 step the feels like one, like dragging and dropping your money to an temporary account that is created just for that transaction.

Zos (profile) says:

Re: How about the first 50 pages are free...

how about i cut out the middle man, give the publisher fuck all for the zero effort he put into it, don’t pay for the printing, binding, shipping and wharehousing of dead tree editions i’m not buying and simply buy the author a couple top shelf shots when i meet him at a con? alternatively, give me a direct download from the website like Cory Doctorow, and the ability to buy and donate copies to school libraries.

Sachi says:

This isn't new just an updated version

Stuff like this has been going on the book world for ages, before and after the advent of the Internet. Ever heard of Charles Dickens? His books and those of his contemporaries were often published in separate sections sometimes months apart–sometimes with the next section not even written–to save money, build tension, and probably as a try before you buy (the rest of it). As for after the Internet, lets talk about Cracked columnist’s book Rx:a tale of electronegativity. He released it in three parts, much in the way of Dickens, partly because that way people can test it out. In fact, you can test it out here: Enjoy, or you know, don’t. It’s up to you.

Rob Lewis (profile) says:

Unintended Consequences

In the Department of Unintended Consequences:

Authors will “front load” their books, putting all the best material at the beginning in the hope of hooking readers for further purchases.

By the end of the book, it will have degenerated to drivel.

Which might be OK. Personally, I think the great majority of (nonfiction) books could say everything important they have to say in a couple dozen pages.

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