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Here’s how indexing could evolve with ebooks

Another way to monetize ebooks

Coins-948603_1920In today’s market there are typically two methods for ebook distribution: free or 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 of 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 where 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 supports a survey-driven business model. Google would be the logical choice as they could easily integrate their Opinion Rewards service in 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 their wallets, could become a more viable option, helping authors and publishers better understand how their content is being consumed.



Hello Joe

Nice article. However this model exists, and is already present in thousands of mobile apps out there. Have a look at Pollfish ("http://www.pollfish.com). Pollfish allows app owners to incentivize users to complete surveys and unlock content in their app!

Kind Regards

Andreas Vourkos

Ken Dunn

Joe, as long as I have known you, you have kept me thinking. On the topic of advertising, why wouldn't I suggest that authors, in my self publishing company, solicit advertisers to buy space in their books. Instead of tastelessly throwing the ads on full pages in the back of the book, why not put Google-ad sized ads right in the layout? Why would I advertise a travel agency that books trips to Sonoma right on the page that the authors writes about that location? The ad could say: If this has you thinking about a trip to Sonoma, call for details, 888-888-8888.

I think that ads like this are definitely going to start appearing in e-books but why not print? If you have a good layout artist it won't hurt the read. Will it?

Joe Wikert

Hi Ken. You could certainly implement what you described above but my biggest concern is scalability. You'd ideally want a model where the ads are more fluid and require no manual intervention (or selling). However, in the travel agency example you mention, I could see where maybe that agency might be interested in sponsoring and being the exclusive advertiser throughout that book. If so, and if the financials make sense, those survey questions that appear from chapter to chapter could be for the agency's questions and they'd have full access to all the answers.

Ads in print are another option but they obviously won't have all the dynamics and flexibility of digital editions. Plus, you won't be able to get much data from them other than discount code conversions you insert in the ads.

Joe Wikert

Vourkos, you are absolutely right that models like this exist. As I mentioned in my article, I was inspired by Google's service as a standalone app. I haven't seen the model applied to ebooks though and that's why I wrote this piece.

I'm curious to learn whether you feel your Pollfish service could be integrated with an ebook application. Drop me an email and let's continue the conversation there as it would be great to experiment with you on this. I can be reached at jwikert [at] gmail [dot] com.

Mark Watkins

Charles Stross wrote an interesting post a few years back, along these lines:

The money quote: "In the future, readers will not go in search of books to read. Feral books will stalk readers, sneak into their ebook libraries, and leap out to ambush them."


The alternative would be to make it cheap enough that people are price insensitive. I've considered putting out a bunch of mini-travel guides for like $1.99 each. Just something that travelers could put on their mobile device for specific locations. Sounds similar to your product. (size-wise)

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