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Will Pay-as-You-Read Allow Publishers to Charge More for Ebooks?

In Discussion by Edward Nawotka

As readers come to understand that they are paying for quality, they may be willing to pay more.

By Edward Nawotka, Editor-in-Chief

paid contentToday’s feature, Killing the “Pay First, Read Later” E-bookselling Model” discusses Israel’s Total Boox, an untriguing new company that is offering a “pay-as-you-read” e-bookselling model. The system is logical — if you read 10% then you pay for 10%, if you read 100% you pay for 100%. Publishers are free to set their own prices, and Lorch thinks that this system may enable them to ultimately charge higher prices.

“I think that part of the downward trend on Amazon, of giving deep discounts is because of the uncertainty involved,” he says. “Buyers want to minimize risk; but that risk is eliminated on Total Boox. And if people only pay for what they read, then ultimately they may be willing to pay more.”

Could this indeed be true? Perhaps so.

One of the phenomena we’ve seen in pricing is the push toward zero, led in large part by the self-publishing community. The strong sales of inexpensive titles has demonstrated one thing: consumers are willing to take a chance on a book if it’s cheap. And if that book disappoints, it’s no big deal — especially when it compares with having paid $9.99 for a book. Anecdotally, e-booksellers have reported that returns on these cheap titles are far less likely than they are on higher priced books (you did know you can actually return an ebook to most ebook retailers, albeit with some effort involved?).

But what if the books were better, and the urgency to read it higher, leading to a greater degree of satisfaction? Could this not, in particular, inspire more confidence in readers, particularly if the risk of paying outright for a poor book was already minimized?

Ultimately, this may very well translate into higher prices, as readers better understand that they are paying for quality — instead of what we have now, which is little more than a promise all too frequently unfulfilled.

Yes we’ve already seen some experimentation in this area among those authors who give their digital editions away for free online with the expectation that the reading experience will generate publicity and inspire purchases of print books. But that is a marketing exercise being driven on a personal level by many; it’s not a model that works as a long-term solution for the industry.

Total Boox model has many potential long-term implications. It may change the format in which writers present their work — think more short chapters, with cliff-hanger endings, a la The DaVinci Code. It may force publishers become even more selective in the titles they opt to publish, as readers seek out a “flight to quality” for these higher priced books. But in the long-term, the greatest impact it may ultimately have is marginalizing the print book business even further as print books are turned — for a significant percentage of readers — into an object of posterity, the proverbial souvenir.

Agree? Disagree? Let us know what you think in the comments.

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

Edward Nawotka is the Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. A former foreign correspondent, he has covered the book business exclusively since 2000, serving as daily news editor for Publishers Weekly and columnist for Bloomberg News.