Idea: I'll Pay You to Read My Book

Authors (and/or publishers) can make money by paying people to read books.

That's Kevin Kelly's idea, and it's an intriguing one.

Readers would purchase an e-book for a fixed amount, say $5. They would use an e-book reader to read the digital book. The e-book reader would contain software that would track their reading usage … If a reader is given credit for reading the book, then he/she would earn more than they paid for the book. For example, if they paid $5 for the ebook, they would get back $6, thus earning $1 for reading the book. Not only did the book not cost them anything, but they made money reading the book. If they read it.

The Publisher would pay the difference from the potentially greater sales revenue this arrangement would induce. Greater numbers of readers would purchase the book initially in the hope and expectation that they would finish the book and be reimbursed greater than the amount they paid. In their mind, entering into a purchase is an “easy buy” because they calculate “it will cost them nothing.” Or maybe even make them money.

I'll Pay You to Read My Book


  1. Such an offer would *REQUIRE* an expiration date for the offer, and anyone that fails to complete it in that time period is a non-negated sale. 

    Even stranger, the worse – or more difficult – the book is to finish, the more cost effective promotion would be.  How diabolical.  Of course, the real problem would be the same one you have with DRM.  You need reliable technical lockdown – which is not possible.  Someone will find a way to exploit it, and once the exploit is in the wild, the wheels fall off.  It would only take a small handful of bad actors to trash the entire system.  Still, a nice thought experiment, and it might be workable if combined with a club or group setting where participation was limited and there was social pressure to not game the system. 

    Edit: Actually RTFA, stupid comment removed.

    1. Of course there has to be an expiration, but then you make money if up to 80% finish the book. 

      It’s kind of like mail-in rebates.  Your gizmo is free – if you round up the proofs of purchase and mail them to the right address.  But only a very small fraction actually do it.

      1. Exactly.  

        Still, it does have some potential where you have social impetus to not cheat, perhaps as a special offer to a specific author’s personal fan club, or a book club or professional association that have some reasonable barrier to entry … people that have a strong social and personal incentive to play nice, but wouldn’t mind getting a free book. 

    1. Not only is it easily exploited, it’s also rather perverse – it encourages the publishing of unreadable novels, as novels that people want to read would be money-losers.

  2. As someone said, it’s way too vulnerable to exploiting, but as a concept, it has potential.

    Making the potential payoff > purchase price is too vulnerable, but having a system with the possibility of that, along with a break even acheiveable for everyone, would make it much more appealing to customers. 

  3. You’re basically saying “I bet you won’t bother reading this book” – as that’s the only way the publisher can make money.

    The idea has merit though. Probably only if you get a refund for reading it, otherwise people will find a way to make money by downloading books and skipping through them.

    1. Agreed. For that reason alone, it seems like terrible marketing.

      Rebate Publishing Ltd.
      Where no one finishes our books (TM)

  4. So…the very people who actually ‘consume’ more of the book and get more value from it pay less?  How does this make sense? 

    Also…wouldn’t most people be seriously creeped out to have their reading habits tracked like this?  I certainly would be.

    1. I think that Kindle already tracks that info. Certainly they track bookmarks and highlights. I read somewhere that Netflix also does this sort of micro-tracking. They know what parts people fast-forward through, rewind to watch again etc. and allegedly they brought some of that knowledge to the production process when they made House of Cards.

  5. So, publishers would improve their chances of profiting by putting their promotional dollars behind crappy books! Oh wait.

  6. I assume this is click bait? As an idea it is profoundly stupid. Like world shatteringly epically ridiculous. The only way this idea works is if it’s like a government sponsored education think (i.e. on health or safety) where the payout of $1 a book nets overall savings in excess of that. For like a novel? It is silly beyond words. The only way you make money is if people don’t read the book and does banking on your customers essentially throwing out your product seem like a logical way to build a customer base?

  7.  I’ve often thought this modern world needed more business models that are completely based on unbreakable DRM and complete control of the end-users’ devices.

  8. Are the Evelyn Wood speed-reading courses still available?

    I foresee thousands of Chinese speed-readers “word-mining” for a living.  Unintended consequence: Because of the breadth and variety of books read by those Chinese word-miners, they end up becoming an army of brilliant generalists, inciting a new era of Chinese progress and creativity.  China takes over world.  The End.

  9. It almost seems like this is some sort of “modest proposal” type troll.

    All this will do is provide authors with an incentive to make as unreadable a book as possible, and publishers to look for them.

    1.  Also:
      “We have a wildly successful book and people love it.  Every time we sell one we loose a dollar!  How are we going to make any money?”

      “We’ll make it up in volume!”

  10. This strikes me like someone has been watching The Producers too much.  “We can make more money from a flop than a hit!” 

    New, from Mel Brook, “The Publishers”!  They thought they were releasing the worst, most unreadable e-book ever… which turns out to be THE smash hit which no one can put down!

  11. Hello, my name is Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz, and I will pay you to read my poetry book. Of course there’s a time limit, as we’ll be putting in that hyperspace bypass later this afternoon.

  12. A novel idea.  I could see it having a use with school textbooks, particularly at the University level.  But there is literally zero chance that textbook publishers will mess with their ridiculously profitable captive market.

  13. So… the greater the difference between marketing and actual product the higher the profit?
    This is pretty much exactly the opposite of what would be useful.
    The reader should be able to get the book for free and only pay for reading it, or if they liked it. Except that this would again require DRM-like features on the device and therefore an invasion of the readers’ property and therefore go away, just sell me the book already. Or get a flattr button.

  14. Why not flip it? You pay full price for the book, but if you never go past halfway, you get half refunded, or the refund is pro-rated. That would incentivize nailbiters that you can’t put down. Imagine a great mystery book where you only get the refund if you don’t read the part where the detective reveals it all.

  15. Did I really just read this “idea” on the same site as the one run by a guy who wrote a novel homaging 1984 and that posts at least five times a week warning us about different privacy issues regarding technology?

  16. Ugh. There were some novels that no amount of money would entice me to finish. Besides, if the reading isn’t the reward in itself, then the book sucked.

  17. So your business model is simple: by betting that someone else will fail, you profit.  What could possibly go wrong?

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