Israel-based ebook site Total Boox is introducing a new business model based on charging consumers by a per-page-read basis for the books they purchase. Company CEO Yoav Lorch believes this business model appeasl to readers, publishers, and writers, describing the per-page system as a “powerful marketing channel” to access new readers and increase revenue by matching the right books for the right reader. Lorch writes on the Total Boox website, “We thrive to relieve humanity, once and for all, from the confusing unnecessary and outdated ritual of buying a book BEFORE reading it.”
Personally, I’m not quite so sure I want to send Locrch a thank you note for reliving me of the “stress” of choosing books, but it’s nice to know he cares.
Total Boox promotional video
The hippie, socialist in me (sitting next to the gun-toting, capitalist in me), who I admit tends to always get a bit suspicious when computers are used to reduce basic human actions into commodities, was a little thrown by the pure, happy capitalism of using per-page reading as another analytic for charging a credit card. It definitely didn’t help that the company’s website relentlessly pushes the idea that choosing and then purchasing a title before reading it places an unfair burden on readers by forcing a “complex purchasing decision” on your poor, fragile heads. Total Boox claims that the per-page pricing structure allows readers the freedom to choose what and how much they read, as well as encouraging them to experiment with books, genres, and authors they wouldn’t have tried otherwise. Granted, breaking things down to a per-page basis is an extreme way of measuring sales, but in Total Boox defense, what the company is doing isn’t all that different from the business model other serial publications have used for centuries.
Serial publications are as old as books themselves and the list of classic novels from the eighteenth and nineteenth century originally published in a serial format is long and includes works like Moby Dick, David Copperfield, and Tom Jones. In our modern world, as a comic book fan, I’ve spent huge chunks of cash buying issue after never-ending issue of the continued monthly adventures of all sorts of four-color characters. One advantage of serial fiction though is that the opposite is also true, and if this month’s issue of The Walking Dead isn’t my cup of tea, I don’t have to buy it. I can drop the story and never look back or wait awhile, until the writer or artist is more to my liking or the storyline changes. Then, I can pick the comic book up again, only paying for the part I actually choose to read. Clearly, the concept of paying as you go for your fiction is hardly a new one; so, the questions is what happens to the way books are written if the per-page price format actually does catch on? With per-page serialization, does the writer find himself or herself forced to make every page a cliffhanger, every meeting a fight, every encounter a torrid (and of course multi-page) sex scene, leaving little to no room for any kind of subtly at all?
The detailed applicable analytics of ebooks usage can show publishers and writers in extreme detail exactly what the readers’ reaction is to every moment in a book, effectively showing what parts of a book would sell better than others. This kind of page-specific feedback allows writers and publishers to tailor each page to have exactly what’s needed to keep the reader happy, and more importantly, reader will be encourage to turn to the next page and the next. Using Total Boox analytics, publishers can graph each title for maximum sales. Although, what this does to the act of writing itself is an ethical question that will need to be answered.
Realistically, I do believe that the kind of per-page pricing Total Boox uses possibly has some real value for readers using books for research, how-to manuals, and maybe even short story collections. But for general fiction, I simply don’t see too many authors willing to allow their titles to be sold in such a completely piecemeal manner. Authors in recent years have increasingly released their titles in a serialized format, and I see that trend continuing. However, I have trouble believing that most established writers will want to be that micromanaged in their creativity. At the same time, I can’t help but expect to see outfits similar to James Frey’s Full Fathom Five, popping up all over the place and using an algorithm to create highly successful novels on an assembly line, each and every last stinking one about cute vampires having sex with young girls.
The future is now, kids. The future is now.