Can I buy a few pages Mr. Publisher?

The idea of allowing readers to purchase a book incrementally is not new. We’ve seen startups such as attempt to do this in education, where students hate the idea of buying an entire reference book. There’s LonelyPlanet which sells travel guides by chapter, and there are a few other publishers that allow unbundling in certain categories such as design books and textbooks.

The idea is not new, but it is far from done. And the argument that this is not worthwhile for mainstream books is outdated. In an era of devices such as iPads and Kindles, applications such as FlipBoard, or alternative content such as TED Talks and blogs, do we really need to buy books upfront? The deeper question is – do we fully read the books we buy, especially non-fiction where the author has been forced by the publisher to fill at least 300 pages to convey what could be said in a 100?

Every time I see a tweet from someone declaring that she has stopped buying Business/Self-help/Parenting/Travel, or even just “fat” books, I know that many authors have lost a reader who would have loved to read a few chapters if she could ‘buy as she reads’. Why do we make her buy only those books that come highly recommended? Let her start small – if she flips a page, or a chapter, go ahead and bill her in the background. Don’t make her work so damn hard when buying the book – read reviews, ask folks, listen to the TED talk, try smart platforms such as GoodReads, etc, etc…phew!

Mainstream publishing need new pricing models. Brevity must be encouraged. Chapter wise translations must be encouraged and incrementally precede demand. Tracking popularity by ‘total pages read’ rather than by ‘copies sold’ is closer to reality. We’ll all start reading and buying more books if we knew that there is no downside to stopping anytime we want.

The world must continue to pay for good books, just like the world continues to pay for good music.
Now, all we need to do is convince Jeff Bezos or Tim Cook.

Motivation: What we read is a big part of who we are. Opera Winfrey once remarked during an interview that when the book is really good she intentionally goes slow; she doesn’t want it to end. Knowing that there is a good book waiting at home keeps me happy throughout the day. I can afford to buy books that I later skip but many others do not have this luxury. And they may turn on the TV, or aimlessly stare at Facebook or E-mail for lack of an uninterrupted supply of good books. This is reason enough to change the prevailing publishing models. This idea is close to my heart. Would love to engage in any way with folks who are reinventing this space.

One comment

  1. Avinash

    Completely agree with your thoughts here. I have many times started reading books and yet never reached the last page, deciding to pick up another. After reading a TED Book (Why School? by Will Richardson) recently, I realised how powerful short concise books can be. And more so, the speed at which such books can be read is much slower intact – simply because they’re so engaging and thought provoking. The fact that something like a TED Book embeds other articles and videos is also something that adds to the entire experience and extent to which a reader comes to truly understand the book to its deepest gut. After reading the book, it almost feels like we’ve been very much a part of the entire research and other work that’s gone behind writing that very book.

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