ReadWrite is Wrong: Pay-As-You-Read E-Bookselling Does Work

PaperC_Logo_RGB_4162_0[1]Have you caught the post on Read Write today about TotalBoox? If you have not read it, don't bother. The article is wrong, and I can show you why.In that article the author, Antone Gonsalves, argues that the pay-as-you-read startup TotalBoox won't amount to anything. The tl;dr version is:

  • readers won't want to pay a fractional price for a fractional book,
  • publishers also won't want to receive a fractional payment for that fractional read, and
  • the average ebook price is too low to make this a viable business model
That is a compelling argument - except for the fact it is at best only half true.

If pay-as-you-read isn't a viable business model then someone forgot to tell PaperC. This Leipzig based startup launched in 2008 with the goal of selling ebooks by the page and chapter. Four years and 2 rounds of funding later and PaperC is still doing what ReadWrite insists is impossible.

If you're not familiar with PaperC, let me offer some background on how they operate. It's a somewhat complicated freemium model.

Visitors can browse the PaperC website without having to register. This includes reading up to 10 pages of any textbook (or 10 pages of every textbook). Once a reader registers, they can read from any book for up to half an hour  for free before the nag screen appears and they are prompted to buy stuff.

I won't go through the entire flowchart (you can find out more here), but I will note that PaperC sells by the chapter and page. They'll let you annotate a page before downloading it and they will even help you generate a citation.

Don't anyone tell PaperC that publishers aren't interested in the idea of fractional payments. Quite a few textbook and technical publishers have already signed up, including O'Reilly, Pearson, Bloomsbury, Bertelsmann, and MIT Press. And those are just the names I recognize; there are at least a couple hundred publisher partners who collectively have over 17 thousand titles available via PaperC.

If you've been following the news about TotalBoox then you might notice that PaperC doesn't quite have the same business model as TotalBoox. This is true, but the salient details are the same. Readers are paying to read part of a book. Publishers are accepting those fractional payments.

How exactly does that model not work?

About Nate Hoffelder (11227 Articles)
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader:"I've been into reading ebooks since forever, but I only got my first ereader in July 2007. Everything quickly spiraled out of control from there. Before I started this blog in January 2010 I covered ebooks, ebook readers, and digital publishing for about 2 years as a part of MobileRead Forums. It's a great community, and being a member is a joy. But I thought I could make something out of how I covered the news for MobileRead, so I started this blog."

3 Comments on ReadWrite is Wrong: Pay-As-You-Read E-Bookselling Does Work

  1. It seems as though there’s a sizable contingent of people within publishing that simply don’t want any tangibly different business models to work. It’s getting pretty tedious. I guess that’s the one drawback to disruption, the dinosaurs don’t die fast enough.

    It seems like a great idea to me. If I’m not going to own the books anyway, and get no tangible monetary value for them, why should I have to pay for “access” I never used? I read books in bits and pieces anyway. For instance, I’m currently at different points in a nonfiction book on serial killers, Umberto Eco’s In The Name Of The Rose, a collection of Joe Konrath’s horror short stories, H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau and Elephants Can Remember by Agatha Christie. Some I’ll eventually finish, some I’ll never come back to, but if I pay literally for only what I read, I’ll take more chances, find more stuff I like and save money in the process. As a writer, a system that allows greater risk taking with less financial friction for readers sounds intriguing. I’ll take a system based on partial payments any day over one virtually requiring me to give away thousands of whole copies free to generate sales.

    I don’t think people have fully thought through the implications of the licensing scheme. They’re behaving like people will still value the book in the same manner as if they owned it. It’s naive.

  2. Pay as you read = serials.
    Seems to me everybody’s poster child of the week, Hugh Howey, has done pretty well with *his* serial.
    And modern comics are nothing if not serials.
    And what about all those successful multipart novella trilogies you find all over the ebook space?
    Or, this:

    To say pay as you read *won’t* work ignores the fact that it *is* working.
    Now, it would be fair to say that it isn’t being broadly adopted… yet.
    But give it time.

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