Making eBooks worth it

For the last several weeks, I have been building on a summary of Baldur Bjarnason's call to "make eBooks worth it". Last week, I looked at what Bjarnason calls a “more symmetrical relationship between reading and writing”. In this final post in the series, I am considering his argument for a “greater variety of models for how we extract value from writing”.

In his originating post, Bjarnason's examples ranged "from gift-giving (pay-what-you-want) to subscription to dynamic pricing (like automatically increasing or decreasing prices the more people buy to create either scarcity or abundance, depending on what you want)." Although these models aren't firmly established in publishing, there are some emerging examples to show that they can work.

Storybundle, for example, invites readers to "support awesome indie authors by paying however much you think their work is worth". Readers who pay more than $10 are eligible to download bonus titles. The bundles are genre-specific (video games and romance at the moment), and titles are sold without the use of DRM, making them readable across multiple devices.

Although funded startups are getting the lion's share of press attention, subscription models already exist in publishing. A post I wrote last week talked about Safari Books Online, Coursesmart and Valobox as different ways to bundle and access content. These services don't require you to acquire the whole book. You access what you need.

Dynamic pricing also exists, although it is implemented mostly by online retailers. If there is an example of a publisher using dynamic pricing on its direct sales, I am not yet aware of it.

In publishing Book: A Futurist's Manifesto, a title I co-edited with Hugh McGuire, O'Reilly Media elected to release the book sequentially. Readers who bought the first section at a low price received the second and third sections at no additional charge. We wanted to encourage people to buy the book early, comment on it and build a conversation around the content of the entire book. The pricing scheme helped us do that.

Each of these examples outlines what can work, not necessarily what will work. Different types of books likely will benefit from different models (the technology focus for Safari Books is an example). But demand for different, flexible, customized pricing models is likely to grow. Meeting that demand is another way to "make eBooks worth it".

Brian O'Leary

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.

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