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A Pay-What-You-Want Bookstore Could be Used for Many Things, But Discovering New Authors? No

storeA new bookstore called Openbooks has been getting a lot of attention over the past few weeks for its unusual business model. Openbooks has taken the pay what you want model popularized by content bundle sites like Humble Bundle and Story Bundle and made it the centerpiece of a retail store.

The site has been operation since January (it now carries 200 titles), and the media is still trying to figure out what we’re looking at and how it could be used. I’m still thinking it over myself, but in the meantime Forbes has taken a swing at it.

Trevor Clawson thinks that readers could use Openbooks to find new undiscovered authors:

So how to you market and sell new, edgy or challenging authors in the online book market.

Polish startup believes one answer is to let readers download first and pay later via an online bookstore populated with its own authors. And more importantly customers who buy from OpenBooks’ online store can pay what they want. “Readers can download an eBook for free in EPUB, MOBI or PDF, read it, copy the file and share it with their friends and decide if and how much they want to pay based on what they feel the book is worth,” says the company’s CTO Tomasz Staniak

While Openbooks could be used this way, I just don’t see it happening.

Clawson is proposing that readers find the store, commit to buying from the store, commit to the unusual business model, and then go through the effort of loading the ebooks on to their ereader or mobile device.

That’s a pretty tall order of business, just to find a new author. Wouldn’t it make more sense for a reader to look for new authors where they already buy ebooks – for example, in the Kindle Store?

That would require far less work, and there is certainly no shortage of authors with free ebooks in the major ebookstores. Can you think of a good reason readers would want to put in the extra effort?

So what do you think of OpenBooks?

images by s o d a p o pyamimi

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puzzled April 28, 2015 um 4:28 am

I think you’re under-estimating the amount of effort people will go through to get something for free…

Nate Hoffelder April 28, 2015 um 7:26 am

That is a good point, but they can get all the free stuff they want in the major ebookstores.

Ebook Bargains UK April 28, 2015 um 4:57 am

Although English-language the store is based in Poland and available to Polish readers, among others, who will be surcharged if they go to the Kindle store, even for free books.

As and when Amazon open a Kindle store in countries like Poland, or drop the surcharge (anything from $2-$4 – of which the author sees absolutely nothing, and the royalty then paid is just 35$ of the original list price, not the surcharged price) then OpenBooks is a great way of no-risk discovery of new authors.

The problem at the moment is that the selection is so small. so more authors climb on board so the appeal will widen.

Laine Cunningham April 28, 2015 um 8:17 am

What do I think of Open Books? Terrible idea for everyone except the reader who wants something for free. There’s already a way for readers to determine how much they want to pay for a book before buying it: sample chapters.
Let’s get real. Those free giveaway promotions move thousands and thousands of copies but result in a much smaller number of actual sales (even for a series). So this is nothing more than a single store where you get giveaways all the time.
Same problems apply, because as much as 80% of freebies are never read. Why bother? For the author, anyway.
IP is called intellectual property for a reason. It is owned by someone because they are the creator. The creator deserves something for their time, effort and skill. Many readers know that part of the bargain is paying something for the pleasure they get from reading those IPs. Anyone who wants only free stuff is not participating in that…they are sucking energy out of the system and returning nothing.

Jaylat April 28, 2015 um 10:05 am

I agree with Laine 100%, but I assume the authors who signed up knew exactly what they were getting into – that their books would be given away for free. It’s a business model, if not a particularly appealing one.

Also according to the article they’ve collected a grad total of $1,350 for their efforts. I don’t see these guys getting much traction.

Nate Hoffelder April 28, 2015 um 10:07 am

Yes. They’re getting press attention and hype out of all proportion to the actual impact or usefulness.

Maria (BearMountainBooks) April 28, 2015 um 1:15 pm

Smashswords has done a "Let readers set the price" since the beginning. I’ve never tried it, but I’ve not heard authors gushing about results either. I’ve not heard readers talk about it and I think you can search on that option.

If this place had started before so many indies went free and had gotten decent press, it might have worked for a while. But now? Even the trads have decent sales on a lot of books. There’s libraries. There’s some lending available. There are free indie books everywhere. There’s free sampling. I was in a snit this morning because I just bought the new Markhat (Frank Tuttle) from Kobo and found it had DRM. Now I know how to solve this and it’s a two-second solution, but I still considered it a "hoop" to jump through.

I can tell you one thing. This reader is not going to sign up. I don’t need more hoops or hassles. Amazon made a success of Kindle and Kindle books because it’s SO EASY.

Nate Hoffelder April 28, 2015 um 5:57 pm

Wow, I didn’t know that. It must be so old that no on thinks to mention it any more. Are you sure it’s still around? I can’t find any ebooks priced this way.

Anyway, I’m not surprised that this option isn’t used much on Smashwords. My rule of thumb is that if it were a worthwhile feature then we would have the option in the Kindle Store. Amazon would have added it.

Maria (BearMountainBooks) April 28, 2015 um 6:08 pm

I actually went and checked to see if I could price my books that way before I typed it because I wasn’t sure it was still available. It’s there. I know if you do price it that way, it won’t get pushed to most of the retailers–that is probably why it isn’t used. There may be a way to price it that way for smash and other prices for the retailers. I didn’t try that.

Back in the day a few authors did try it and reported that they sometimes were paid 5 and 7 dollars for a read. But I don’t follow the threads on that forum anymore and that thread would be so old, it probably doesn’t exist anymore.

Nate Hoffelder April 28, 2015 um 6:10 pm


Barry Marks April 28, 2015 um 1:18 pm

I have no idea whether a store like this can succeed. Probably the odds are against it but who knows! As Steve Jobs famously said “the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”

We know the world of books is changing, probably more than at any time in the history of the world, and no-one knows where it’s going. I’m glad that people with imagination and the courage to pursue their ideas are trying things like this. Many, probably most, will fail. Some won’t. Either way, we all win.


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