Saturday, 29 December 2012

Pay As You Go: The eBook Pricing Revolution

Preparing to go on holiday recently I downloaded three books onto my Kindle.  One fiction, two non.  For the latter two I downloaded the preview before committing to a purchase.  This is a useful feature, but the problem with previews is that they generally start at Page 1 (no really) and consist largely of preamble - preface, acknowledgements, introduction, yada yada - with very little content by which to judge the remainder of the book. In a real shop of course I would have flicked through the book haphazardly to determine whether it was what I was after.  As it turned out neither of these were.  I didn't read much of them, and I doubt I ever will.

It was at this point that something occurred to me that, in retrospect, is so blindingly obvious that I will reject any claims of my genius for conceiving the idea.  It regards the purchase of electronic books and is almost too simple to make anything of it:

  • Only pay ... (wait for it) ... for what you read.
That's it.

It would work like this.  Say there is a 399-page book which costs £3.99.  Of course, I don't know whether I'm going to like it or not: books are very subjective, especially fiction.  No matter, though, because it costs nothing to download.  (I could download a couple of dozen before a holiday, say).  Only when I read Page 1 does it cost me anything, and only a penny at that; then I read Page 2 and it costs me another penny; and so on.  If the book is good enough to keep me to the last then I will pay the full price (and be glad to); but if however I give up before the end of the first chapter then it'll only have cost me, say, 30p.  Perfect.  The holy grail of pricing policies.

But more than just benefitting the consumer in the obvious way it is the ultimate mechanism for driving quality into the output of the industry.  If people people only have to commit to paying for what they read then they are more likely to try books by new or unknown writers.  And, on the flip-side, if the latest 'best-seller' from an old favourite doesn't cut the mustard, and doesn't actually get read, then the author (and publisher) will only get paid accordingly.  Big name authors (and non-authors!) could not afford to get lazy with their content and publishers could not afford to churn out rubbish riding on the author's celebrity.

The technology exists to implement this and, as with the ebook revolution itself, it would be another great step forward in levelling the playing field for all writers.  Of course, the stuffy old publishing industry will resist the shift, because they are backward and greedy, and fearful that they might actually have to publish decent readable books, not just ones where the author's name on the cover is larger than the title.

But the likes of Kindle are powerful.  Amazon could drive this revolution on its own, because no publisher could survive without them.  Or maybe it will be one of the other ebook platforms that strike first.  Because this could just be the edge they need to regain some ground.

Either way you read it hear first ... that'll be 1p please.