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“We are trying to rid the world from outdated, expensive ritual of buying a book before you read it,” says [founder Yoarv] Lorch.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.

Filed Under: business models, ebooks, pay as you read


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  1. icon
    PaulT (profile), 19 Feb 2013 @ 12:38am

    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.

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