Pay as You Read – eBook Promotion

Previously on this blog, I have shared my ideas about new and innovative ways for authors to promote their work, and to make a living from self-publishing novels.

I want to share another idea I have had on this topic.

This brainwave came to me when I was thinking about the plot of Conspire, and whether it was enough of a ticking time bomb. I have always believed that a good thriller or mystery must keep people turning the pages. The reader should always be searching for answers, and be given enough information to keep them sustained on their hunt for the final truth.

If I am successful in writing a page turner, I should be able to achieve this quest – producing something that readers find difficult to put down.

I’ve already proved I can write something that people are interested in downloading for free as an eBook. So my new idea builds on the idea of giving people a taste of your work, and then asking them to pay for it once they are ‘hooked’. Many authors are trying this, in the form of a free sample of their work. They figure, rightly, that if a reader doesn’t have to invest anything in trying their work, and decide it is worth the money to keep reading on after the free sample, they will make more sales than they ordinarily would by asking for money up front.

I’m thinking that I could take this concept one step further, and charge the reader only for the chapters they actually read.

Conspire has 83 chapters. I could offer the first five chapters as a free sample. The rest of the 78 chapters would then be charged at ten cents each. The first ‘paid’ chapter would need to be paid for, either with credit card, pay-pal or direct debit. But the transaction of 10c wouldn’t go through straight away. Perhaps six weeks later, the eBook software would work out how many chapters were downloaded, and the grand total of 10c per chapter read would be debited from the reader’s account. If they like the first five chapters, and download five more, but then never pick the book up again, they only pay 50c. If they get to the end of the book, by being satisfied enough with the story to download every chapter, they pay $7.80.

This is a win/win situation for me and the reader. I get incremental revenue from people who may not finish the entire book. And the reader only pays for the entertainment they’ve received. There’s no risk for them – as soon as they lose interest in the plot, they stop paying for it!

Think about all the times you’ve seen a movie and said ‘well that was a waste of $15!’ Imagine if you only paid for the parts of the movie you enjoyed. Or if you didn’t like it at all, you never paid anything!

I’m not exactly sure how I would make this work in practice  – it would be difficult to utilise the pay per chapter process from an eBook site such as Amazon or Smashwords. But these are just details to be worked out at a later stage. I like the idea and I think it has publicity and practical value.


Charlie Sheen gave me an idea…

An idea has occurred to me. I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately about the viability of making a living as an author online. Things are changing so fast, the traditional ‘consumer buys book, author makes money’ idea might soon be defunct. But there are so many new opportunities for authors who are willing to see themselves as ‘entertainment providers’ instead of just ‘writers’, that I’m really excited about the future.

Before I tell you my BIG idea, I need a moment to explain the context. My first book, Times of Trouble, failed to win me an agent or a publisher. I self-published online (for free) and received many fantastic reviews, after almost 30,000 people downloaded my eBook. The idea behind self publishing for free was to build my reputation as a writer. I was a brand newbie after all. But just to confirm, I made zero dollars from this activity.

Since starting my second book, a thriller called Conspire, I have focused on the knowledge that it will likely also end up being released as an Indi eBook. For this reason, I wrote a plot that very much lends itself to the digital format; there is ample opportunity to increase reader engagement with add-ons (bells and whistles) such as music, videos, maps and newspaper articles linking to the text. The central inanimate object in the plot is an iPad! Don’t tell me I wasn’t thinking ahead!

Did I mention I’m also a digital marketer by trade? For this reason, I can’t help but use my knowledge of online marketing to conjure strategies for a) getting my eBook read and b) making anything more than zero dollars (which, to be honest, would be a massive bonus, but isn’t my driving motivation as I love writing. See previous post.)

I’m almost at the BIG idea. I just want to let you know where the initial seedlings of this idea came from. I was reading this post on the blog Diesel, where Frank Coelho explains that advertising is soon to appear in eBooks. I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about this – maybe it would be a way for authors to make a living from their work? But wouldn’t it also be very distracting to the reader and look revolting? I also tend to think that, at the rates advertisers pay for online advertising, which is usually CPM (cost per thousand views), authors won’t be making significant returns from allowing advertising messages in their digital books. So it’s probably not worth the effort.

Rather than dwell on this negative thought, my mind immediately went to the most unlikely place – Charlie Sheen. This man is quite obviously off his rocker, and yet, he was still paid almost $2 million dollars to speak someone else’s words in a sitcom, where he plays a part suspiciously close to his own personality that requires little, if any ‘acting’. Did you catch that I’m quite resentful of writers getting close to nothing when actors get, well, everything? This might be a post for another day. Back to Charlie. The only reason he gets this huge pay cheque is because of the advertising revenue from his top rating show Two and a Half Men.

So, why can’t authors make even a percentile of this sort of money by being innovative about the way we give readers access to our work? We are entertaining them in the same way that a sitcom on TV is. Some might argue even more! (Some like me.)

Here’s my idea:

Conspire is thereabouts 100 chapters long. So, what if I:

  • Release Conspire as an eBook
  • Advertise it using affiliate, search and social media strategies
  • Insert a 15 or 30 second ‘video advertisement’ at the start, and every 10 chapters after
  • The reader can only download 10 chapters at a time, once they have viewed the entire 15 or 30 second ad
  • For each ad, the advertiser contributes somewhere between 6-10c (this is the metric I’m most unsure of, but considering how much it costs to put an ad on Two and a Half Men, I don’t see why innovative marketers won’t come to the party. Also, keep in mind that the advertiser can pretty much guarantee someone has viewed the commercial, rather than paying the 2-5c per TV viewer who goes to the toilet during the commercial break).
  • If 10,000 readers download my book and watch ten 15 or 30 second ads, I receive the grand total of $6,000 – $10,000. Not bad at all!
  • The other benefit is that you get incremental revenue from people reading the first few chapters only and then moving onto something else. Not that readers will be able to put Conspire down. I’m just saying!
  • I prefer this concept, rather than having banners and text ads on the actual pages of the novel. Once the ad has been watched, the reader can get on with reading the book.
  • If people are offended by the ads, they can pay for the book without ads. Their choice! This is the same concept as paid and free apps.

I don’t see why consumers would happily watch ads on TV (even pay TV) and at the movies (when they’ve bought a ticket!), but wouldn’t also be happy to accept that eBook creators need to be compensated for their efforts.

Maybe it’s time we stopped being precious about our literary mantle and realise that we are competing with other entertainment providers, who are reaping rewards from the time they are able to engage with a captive audience.

What are your thoughts? Am I being delusional to think that this could work? Have you heard of anyone else trying this idea? And do I really need an agent and a publisher if I can make this happen myself? Many many questions.

If you’re in a position to give this a go, feel free to try it out before I get there. (And let me know if it works!)

I have some other ideas which combine my digital marketing expertise with monetising digital eBooks. Stay tuned, I will be posting again soon.