Another Way to Monetize Ebooks

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

Another Way to Monetize EbooksIn today’s market there are typically two methods for ebook distribution: free and paid. I’ve said before that one day we’ll see an ad-subsidized model take hold. Purists generally reject that concept, saying they won’t let advertisements interfere with their reading experience. That’s fine. They can pay full price, but I’ll sometimes opt for the cheaper (or free) ad-subsidized version.

There’s another option that could become popular one day, and it will be almost as as frictionless as the free model.

Are you familiar with Google’s Opinion Rewards app? I learned about it a couple years ago and now I use it to buy three or four ebooks per year. Once the app is installed on your mobile device, you’ll get periodic notifications asking you to respond to a survey. These questions can feel kind of creepy, as Google uses the geo service in your device to ask specifics about stores you recently visited, for example. It takes about 10 seconds to answer, and each survey nets me anywhere from 10 to 50 cents, sometimes even more; I usually end up with $10-$12 in my Google account every two to three months, and I always use it to buy an ebook in the Google Play store.

With that in mind, imagine a service in which you can download all the ebooks you want for no charge. The content is locked and it becomes accessible as you answer a survey question every few pages. Or maybe you answer a few survey questions at the start of each chapter. Either way, rather than cash or credit card, you’re paying for the ebook with your data and opinions.

Again, this model isn’t for everyone. Privacy freaks will definitely choose the traditional option: paying full price to avoid sharing more data or opinions.

In order to make this happen, we’ll need an ebook application and platform that support a survey-driven business model. Google would be the logical choice, as they could easily integrate their Opinion Rewards service into their ebook app. I doubt that will happen, though, as Google has expressed almost zero interest in the ebook marketplace.

(Doesn’t it seem as though they only released an ebook application because Apple has one?)

In order for any company to offer this option, they’d have to place a high value on the survey data. That means they’d either use the results to improve their own business (unlikely) or sell the anonymized results to others (more likely).

The key difference with this model for publishers is that they’ll earn only as their content is read. So if most users download the book then lose interest after a chapter or two, that’s all the survey income the publisher will earn; this pay-as-you-go model scares the heck out of most publishers because they’d rather get full price up front and not worry about whether the content was engaging or if readers finished the book.

There’s a huge ecosystem of free ebooks today. Publishers and authors typically give these books away and hope some number of readers will buy the next title in the series or another book from that author. A pay-as-you-go model, which doesn’t really force the user to open her wallet, could become a more viable option, helping authors and publishers better understand how their content is being consumed.

This article first appeared on Joe Wikert’s Digital Content Strategies.

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4 thoughts on “Another Way to Monetize Ebooks

  1. N.Subrahmanyam

    Reading is serious business, irrespective of the type of book.Reading an educational book is even more so.It is a two way transaction with no physical manifestation. So, any kind of interruption in that process really disturbs it and impacts the benefit negatively to the reader. But, if Insaybthis, Imwould be labelled one more “purist”. Any case, left to me, anything that is free as a book within its copyright life, is not worth reading. Finally, to my view, advertisement supported monetization of content will see the sun setting on it soon, for more reasons than I can explain here.

  2. Michael W. Perry

    Quote: “I’ve said before that one day we’ll see an ad-subsidized model take hold. Purists generally reject that concept, saying they won’t let advertisements interfere with their reading experience. That’s fine. They can pay full price, but I’ll sometimes opt for the cheaper (or free) ad-subsidized version.”

    And are you going to rent out the exterior walls of your home as billboards? Pretty much the same thing. Books remain one of the very few areas of life when we’re not deluged with ads distracting us and cramming something down our throats. And if there are product placements in books, they’re certainly rarely that in other media. Why destroy that respite. It’s not like we’re living in some empoverished country on $3 a day.

    You might ponder whether everything needs to montarized and judged in terms of money. That’s certainly one charge I level at Amazon and Jeff Bezos. Once upon a time, people talked about the worth of books. Now perhaps half the conversation is devoted to their price. That’s a huge loss.

    I fully agree with Oscar Wilde in Lady Windemere’s Fan, when he had one character remark that a cynic was a “man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.’ Price is not value.

    Keep in mind that, by obsessing over money you’re developing a warped set of values. Will you choose your friends based on money? We you avoid relatives who have little of it. I hope not, but doing that is perfectly consistent with choosing what books you read on that basis.

    Indeed, obsessing over the price of books is perfectly consistent with having no sense of their value.

    –Michael W. Perry, author of Untangling Tolkien

  3. Joe Wikert

    Hi Michael. No, I have no plans to sell ad space on the sides of my house. I don’t think my neighborhood HOA would approve but there’s not much traffic down my street anyway, so it wouldn’t produce very many impressions.

    Note that I said there will be multiple editions of the same book, some with ads at a lower price and some without at a higher price. It sounds like you’ll be a fan of the latter, which is totally fine, so your reading experience will continue to be uninterrupted by ads.

    Your point about price vs. value is perfectly logical but Amazon has piles of data to show that a book at a lower price generally leads to more copies sold than that that same book generates at a higher price.

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