Big Idea: These Books Are Made for Reading (Not Just Selling)
Book Business asked industry thought leaders to discuss the big ideas that are changing the book industry. We are excited about the future of publishing, and we hope these essays invigorate you with new and illuminating perspectives on that future. View the complete essay collection here.
You may have noticed that in recent discussions about ebooks, the word "reading" has somehow gone missing. The talk is all about selling, pricing, royalties, etc.-as if these books are made merely for selling. But they aren't. They are made for reading. If we create smart, beautiful, entertaining books that are not read, we have created nothing.
The bookselling mindset is essential with print books. They have to be sold to cover production and distribution costs. In the ebook space, however, this mindset doesn't make sense. And it's harmful to all.
The main advantage of anything digital is instant availability. The cost of making a copy of an ebook and sending it around the world is negligible. Anyone, anywhere, anytime can have access to all the ebooks out there, no expense involved. But the industry is still stuck on selling books, and refuses to let people read before they complete the purchase (I disregard the preview option as its just a teaser, a prelude to the sale).
I'd like to suggest a bold step. Let people read whatever, wherever, whenever. Let them download to their tablets and phones as many ebooks as they like and keep them there indefinitely. Yes, create infinite immediate availability. And then concentrate on the real thing: reading. Charge the readers for what they actually read, for the value they get, and not for the license to try out something they know little about. Sound revolutionary? Maybe. But all stand to gain.
The business model we have implemented at Total Boox is "purchase as you read." This is not a pay-per-view model, but rather a "gradual purchasing" model, where every piece you read and pay for becomes your own, and you can read it again and again indefinitely. We are not tossing "purchasing" out the window, but splitting it into small, personal increments, and applying it gradually, so that what-you-read-is-what-you-own. You read 5% of the book, you pay 5% of the price, and you own this 5%.
This approach enables absolute reader freedom: Every reader can access any book any time, bypassing the complex decision making of which books to buy. The path to the reader becomes much flatter when publishers no longer need to convince readers to purchase a book-they just need to get readers' attention. Plus, people are willing to pay higher prices for books they actually read versus books they may not read.
I am a dreamer, I know, but I'm also a pragmatist. I see the shift described here as imminent, and I firmly believe that five years from now the question, "Should I buy this book?" will be a weird one.
Yoav Loach is the founder and CEO of Total Boox.
Related story: Big Idea: How Books Can Move Beyond the "Tradigital"