Is an “À la carte” E-Book Subscription Model Viable for Trade Publishers?

In Discussion by Edward Nawotka

A subscription model that offers readers access to books a chapter at a time has potential to generate equivalent revenue and convert browsers into buyers.

By Edward Nawotka

As noted in today’s feature story by Javier Celaya, the all-you-can-eat “Spotify model for e-books” is tricky to monetize properly. But would it be superior if e-books were offered on an à la carte, or if you prefer, “chunking” model — meaning a model that offers readers access to books, say, a chapter at a time, for a price that upon completion of the book reaches a price equivalent to a standard e-book?

The model is already in place in numerous academic and professional markets, as well as in some specialist trade markets. Typically, these subscription models focus on works for which there is an urgent need for access to a specific portion of a book. But the majority of trade books are often read under far less urgent circumstances and the books cannot be as easily parsed.

With an à la carte offering, where users are fed books chapters as a time, the inclination to purchase a full print or e-book edition is likely to grow provided the content is to their liking. This has increased potential convert readers into buyers — either to read the entire book for themselves to give the book as a gift.

What’s more, an à la carte subscription is unlikely to exceed even the cost of an average paperback, which might be enough to appeal to more casual browsers, offering an opportunity to convert them to to book buyers.

In many ways the à la carte model already exists. Google Books already offers previews of books, many of them with — ahem — chunks of the books missing, all in order to entice readers to buy actual editions of the titles. Several parts are missing — such as pricing, licensing, and distribution agreements among them — but the elements are there.

Tell us what you think in the comments.

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

A widely published critic and essayist, Edward Nawotka serves as a speaker, educator and consultant for institutions and businesses involved in the global publishing and content industries. He was also editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives since the launch of the publication in 2009 until January 2016.