As I write this article I’m surrounded by bookshelves loaded with books. Gazing at them looking for inspiration it becomes clear that there are two categories, those such as cookery books and reference books which get used many times, and those such as modern fiction which are really one time reads. With ‘real’ books we churn that part of the collection by passing them on to friends or if we had used the library, returning them.
So why has it taken so long for the eBook world to start to wake up to this? I’ve written before that eventually one of the big players in the eBook market will break ranks and offer some form of business model that allows the trading or transfer for eBooks in order to differentiate themselves. It’s therefore not unsurprising to see that Amazon is positioning on a couple of different approaches. It has recently started trialling the ability for readers to rent eBooks, the same as iTunes has done for movies in the US. Initially, eBooks can be rented for 30 day blocks. This could, however, easily morph into a far more sophisticated pricing structure where you pay more for weekends and evenings, for example.
We’ve become increasingly used to this approach in relation to the movie rentals business model, so why not for books. Traditionally, for books this service was provided by libraries, however, in the main these were free to use but had limited stock.
The approach of paid, time based rentals is, on the whole, a new business model for the book market and it will be interesting to see how it progresses. It’s a ‘no brainer’ for some segments, such as modern fiction, and for this category could see the sales of perpetual licences drop quickly.
Other sectors, such as educational books, could be more interesting though. Remember all of those heavy university books. You bought them at the beginning of each year, and then tried to sell on at the end of the year (or possibly they still sit as a third category, on the bottom shelf of your bookcase trying to give an air of intellectualism?). In reality they had a publisher imposed half-life due to reprints with new chapters added, however, imagine if you could have rented them for the year or even just for the period that you needed them (1 week before the exams!). Well this is another area that Amazon is also pushing with their text book rental service.
In terms of the business model, what we’re seeing is the development of an incentive based model where readers are paying only for the time that they are getting benefit from reading the material, or perhaps they ascribe value to having it available. In turn this should incentivise authors and publishers to continue to create quality content that holds the readers’ attention.
Whilst the business model isn’t new, we’ve seen passenger aircraft leased using a power-by-the-hour business model for many years, what is new is its application to the book market on a paid basis unrestricted by access to a physical book.
It’s likely that with one major player moving in this direction it will be adopted wider quickly. Looking over the horizon though, how long before one of the majors opens their platforms to resellers. This could be someone such as your local high street book store who would use their brand as a wrapper on the technology platform, offering value added curated content. I give it a year, if that!
Note: the link to Amazon.com above isn’t an affiliate link, merely a link to show the art of the possible.