A model for ebooks

March 12, 2010 at 11:41 am | Posted in books, technology | 1 Comment
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I’ve been thinking (thanks, Virgil) about a financial model for ebooks. Maybe ebooks can be rented.

I agree that ebooks will not completely replace physical books. For me, if a book is so good, so important to me that I want to *own* it, I want a physical copy. If I just want to read a book once, I’m fine with it being an ebook.

That got me thinking. I can basically rank books into three categories. There are books I want to read to try out, but not invest much if anything to do so. There are books I know I will want to come back to, quote from, and read again. Then there are books that I love, that really speak to me, that have changed me, and that I will come back to again and again and want to share with people.

For the last kind, I want a physical copy. I want to be able to take it with me anywhere and read regardless of whether a battery is charged or whether I have internet access. The second kind would be fine as an ebook, but I’d want to have some assurance of access. I think I’d want to store it locally, not on someone else’s server in a cloud somewhere. I’d also want to be able to make annotations.

But what about the first one? Maybe I could pay to have access to an ebook for a dollar (or five, or whatever) per week or so, then the access “goes away.” I don’t know how the logistics would work, someone else can figure that out. But I know I’d be much more willing to pay money to try brand new books or books by new (to me) authors if the initial investment were much lower. Otherwise I’d just wait until the physical copy were in the library or the electronic copy were available via the Guttenberg project. And by then I’d have forgotten about it. Even if I didn’t forget about it, if I did it that way I wouldn’t be financially supporting the author when the author most needs it, when they’re alive and trying to make a living by writing.

I can see it now, I’ve got a weekend free, or spring break, or some other stretch of time available. I want to read something outside my known sphere. I pick up my kindle/ipad and browse through recommendations based on my preferences, or based on a similar thing I liked — Pandora-style. Then I pay some relatively low price to try something new. If I really like it, I’ll buy “permanent access.” If not, I won’t have wasted much, and the author gets a little bit of compensation. If I love it, I get a physical copy.

Another way this can work (I think this is done for some books) is you get the first few chapters for free, then pay for the rest. That could work in conjunction with this business model, or as a separate model. I’m not sure.

People have probably already thought of these things. I’m just thinking out loud.

Update: Thanks to Mike O’Connell for pointing me to this fantastic interview with Toni Weisskopf of Baen books about ebooks and associated business models.

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1 Comment »

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  1. Thanks for the link to the Baen interview. I have always been a big fan of Baen books. They publish many of my favorite authors and they share my philosophy WRT digital distribution, copyright, DRM, etc.


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