A library

A library. Photograph by Paul Lowry

We talk a great deal at Techdirt about eBooks, their pricing, DRM, and book piracy, but sometimes lost in all of the discussion is the actual starting point for all of these trends, which is that paying any substantial amount of money for a digital product that might later turn out to be disappointing sucks. Many forward-thinking folks have realized this notion and looked at piracy as something of a “try before you buy” vetting system, choosing to embrace piracy as a solution. Specifically for eBooks, another method for combatting this is to have shorter reads that cost less, theoretically diminishing the risk. They’re both good and sensible efforts, but they skirt around the main issue rather than tackling it head on. There might now, however, be a new way to offer readers the ability to try out books before buying them completely.

TotalBooX is one company trying out what they’re calling a “pay as you go” eBook model. The idea is that you can pay per page rather than buying the entire book upfront. That way, if you find that you don’t enjoy the first 50 pages of a book, you mitigate the risk of being out the entire cost of the book by only having bought those first 50 pages.

With TotalBooX, the overall price of the book doesn’t change. But the users have a chance to save some money if they are not satisfied with the product. The platform already contains 10,000 eBooks, and will be available on iOS and online. First-timers are greeted with $2 worth of free pages, but from then on, the balance of the account needs to be topped up in advance.

“We are trying to rid the world from outdated, expensive ritual of buying a book before you read it,” says [founder Yoarv]Lorch. On TotalBooX, sharing an interesting eBook is as easy as drag-and-dropping it into a friend’s account, and there’s no need to enter any login details or payment information. Add social media integration, the platform hopes to appeal to real book lovers.

We’ll have to see if this gains any real traction, but it highlights the wonder of what you can do in providing customers more options with a digital product. As Lorch himself notes later, this kind of model was previously impossible because of the physical nature of books and the costs associated with them. With digital content however, offering something like this not only makes sense, but now that I’ve seen it I have to wonder what the hell took so long. This is exactly what eBooks do best over their dead-tree brethren. Still, it’s one thing to build it, it’s another to get people interested. In a digital world where so many people expect free samples, charging for those samples may be a turn-off at first, even if it’s much, much more than a normal “sample” of the work. Plus, adding on the “mental transaction costs” of whether or not it’s worth a penny or three to turn the page may be a burden that many users don’t want. Still, giving active readers the chance to pay for exactly as much of a book as they read seems like a workable idea.

As with all things eBooks, however, innovative folks like Lorch need parternships with authors and publishers along with interested customers to really make this work. I’m not sure if traditional publishers will see this type of model as something to embrace or as a threat to their profit lines, but I would imagine self-published authors will embrace this more easily, as they have most other literary innovations. If that indeed proves the case, we likely will be able to add this as another innovation that will push readers away from traditional publishers and towards the self-published author. On the other hand, if literary publishers want to get out front on this, they could help provide readers with an immensely useful service that shows off their authors’ talents.

Written by Timothy Geigner

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