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Is the Market Ready for Selling eBooks by the Page?

5145996668_1821ed9eba[1]Fractional book sales (by the page) has been tried numerous times in the past and it’s never caught on. Textbook publishers have toyed with the idea, the German startup PaperC built its first bookstore on the model (before pivoting), and currently TotalBoox is making another attempt without much luck.

But now author Chris McMullen thinks that the idea could work in the Kindle Store, He wants Amazon to add a new by the page sales option in KDP. Publishers and authors set the retail price, and also (if they so chose) set a fractional price.

He thinks this would work well with nonfiction books:

This might impact reference books and cookbooks, for example. These are books where customers sometimes only need to read part of the book now. Maybe they will want the rest later, maybe not.

Let’s say the customer doesn’t want to pay the list price for the whole book. If pages read isn’t an option, the customer will walk away. If so, it’s a lost sale for the author.

Would the author have been willing to set a per-page price so that the customer could read, say, just Chapter 4? Maybe if the author could set a high enough per-page price, the author would be okay with this. It’s better than nothing, right? And the transaction improves the book’s sales rank, a nice little perk.

That could work, but one serious problem with the idea is that Amazon’s cost of collecting the fractional payment is high enough that the retailer wouldn’t earn anything. Furthermore, that one or two pages of content that McMullen wants us to pay for can often be found online, for free, on an ad-subsidized website.

The prevalence of free content would also limit the model’s use with fiction:

It might impact fiction, too. With the option to pay for pages read, even though you might spend more when reading a whole book, it gives you some flexibility to try a book out that you’re strongly interested in, but don’t want to commit to for its list price.

But how many pages would you have to read before the charges start kicking in?

I ask because most bookstores have free excerpts for the ebooks they sell, and with good reason. Readers are used to being able to pick up a book, read a few pages, and put it down. It’s a habit we picked up back when bookstores still existed, and the rise of ebooks has only reinforced that expectation.

McCullin wants to charge for something readers are used to getting for free, and that’s just not going to work.

That said, I’d still like to see Amazon try it.The continued popularity of Kindle Unlimited shows that some authors and publishers like having the option of the by the page model (most may not use it, but some do avail themselves of the option).

The only question here is whether enough readers will like the fractional payment model to make it the technical and operational costs worth Amazon’s time.

And we won’t know that until the idea is tested in the market.

Until then, let’s discuss the possibility. Would you use this system, either as an author or a reader?

image by kodomut



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Dan Meadows August 20, 2015 um 1:33 pm

I think it works in a system where the reader isn’t actually paying the per page rate, like KU’s subscription fee. But if that per page rate comes out of their pockets, I suspect it would have the opposite effect, far fewer people sampling books and the resultant drop in discoverability. It also would have the same problem as micropayment schemes, the cost to maintain such a setup could be prohibitive to the retailer unless the per page rate were high enough to make it worthwhile. But then, the higher rates could make it prohibitive to the reader.

Fahirsch August 20, 2015 um 2:55 pm

Isn’t this somewhat what has been doing for several years?

Nate Hoffelder August 20, 2015 um 3:12 pm

Isn’t that a subscription service like Scribd or Oyster?

I don’t think Safari sells books by the page. Or does it?

fjtorres August 20, 2015 um 4:46 pm

The payment side might not be unworkable; Amazon’s micropayment system (Amazon Coins) is already in place.
What is very unlikely is consumer acceptance at any rate that authors can live with. That’s where the math will flounder.

Nate Hoffelder August 20, 2015 um 5:27 pm

I forgot about Amazon coins. Can you actually buy them with cash? Huh. I only ever got them as freebies.

fjtorres August 20, 2015 um 7:33 pm


And they go on sale from time to time.
Some of the best deals on Prime Day were on coins; 25% extra when buying 5,000/10,000

Nate Hoffelder August 20, 2015 um 7:52 pm

That does make things easier. Thanks!

Jon Jermey August 20, 2015 um 5:07 pm

Any book that can usefully be sold by the page probably shouldn’t be a book at all, but a subscription-funded website.

carmen webster buxton August 20, 2015 um 11:41 pm

I can’t see it with novels. Dickens sold serialized books in the 19th century only because a large percentage of the population couldn’t afford to buy whole books. These days, I don’t see any incentive for the reader or the publisher/writer to sell a novel by the page.

Nate Hoffelder August 21, 2015 um 6:57 am

It works, on a small scale, with comic books. But that is a legacy market.

Steve Vernon August 21, 2015 um 7:34 am

As an author, I think it is a bad idea. Think about how many books you have picked up and read about four or five pages and then put down. Think about ALL of those books that you never got around to finishing reading.

As far as I am concerned I would much rather have a reader buy my book for the full price and then choose to ignore it at their leisure.

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