The Technium

I’ll Pay You to Read My Book

[Translations: Japanese]

Nobody reads big factual books anymore. Who has time? With a lot of effort you can get folks to buy big factual books, but they don’t usually read them. They sit on the “to read” shelf once they get home. Or pile up in the inbox on an ebook reader. I know. As an author I know how many of my purchased books are unread. But while it is nice that people buy books, I feel a failure as an author if the bought (or borrowed) books are not read.

A couple of years ago I had an idea for increasing readership of books. I’ll pay you to read my book! I had a clever way to use ebook readers to accomplish this. I mentioned the system to many book lovers and authors, and one of them whom made his living patenting ideas suggest my idea was patentable.

I took some initial steps in that direction, but realized very quickly that getting a patent is just like getting a child – you now have to tend it, protect it, feed it, and develop it. It did not solve anything; it only created new things to solve. I have too many other things to do than babysit or try to peddle a patent, so I am publishing the idea here. It may be that this idea is not patentable at all, or even already patented (I never got that far to look), or maybe it is a lousy idea that can’t be implemented. In any case, here it is.

I think it’s a great idea. I’d like to have this option as a reader, as well as an author and publisher. I hope someone does this.

Pay To Read

By Kevin Kelly
June 1, 2012

Proposal for a patent: The idea is to pay people to read a book.

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 – how long it took on average to turn a page; how often they highlighted a passage; how many pages activated at one sitting, etc. Amazon Kindles today already track bookmark usage patterns which they relay back to Amazon on via its wireless Whispernet. Using a database of known reading patterns from verified readers the software would compare a purchaser’s reading behavior to these known reading patterns and establish whether or not a purchaser is really reading the book. If the behavior patterns exceeded the threshold level – say 95% of pages turned at the right speed — then the e-book device would initiate a predetermined payment to the purchaser.

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.

However the likelier outcome is that while many more customers buy the book, fewer actually read it completely. This follows the known pattern that most bought books are not read. So the actual payout for success will likely be less than the actual gain in sales, resulting in a net gain to the Publisher for this deal. So if, for example, the Publisher sold 10 books that were unread for every 1 book that was read, the revenue would be $50-$6 = $44. If this offer increased ordinary sales by for example 40%, there would be a net increase in revenue from $35 to $44 or $9, or 25% additional profit for this model.

There is satisfaction for both parties in either outcome. If the purchaser buys the book, but does not read it in full, he/she paid the acceptable price, and still owns the book. The Publisher keeps the full amount. If the purchaser finishes reading the book, they still have the book, but also earned money doing so. The publisher loses only a small amount on the sale, which can be offset from greater sales to others.

The payout ratio can be adjusted depending on the price of the ebook, or the category of content. This mechanism requires no new hardware than what exists today, and better hardware in the future – such as eye tracking technology — will only make it more practical to evaluate whether someone has read a book. This can be accomplished primarily in software. Of course, it should be an opt in choice, and engaged with a purchaser’s permission only.

  • Merci de partager belle, Thank you for sharing beautiful,
    Sesli Chat Sesli Sohbet ne-nerede speakychat
    ne nerede

  • yvettefrancino

    Interesting idea! I think I will just offer a full refund to anyone who reads my book and sends me an email with any feedback. This may not be sustainable for people who have thousands of readers, but I’d be excited to hear back from any reader and it would help to establish a personal relationship. It also would prevent someone gaming the system.

  • habib
  • Awall

    @Kevin_Kelly:disqus Your scheme is rewarding for both reader and publisher especially if the reward is given in the form of merchandise credit. Which has no real cash value but can reward avid readers with the ability to purchase as many books as they could possibly read forever it would serve only as encouragement for people to become more educated and that definitely couldn’t hurt this society one bit. Plus you would build a massive fan base through recommendations and reviews if you had anything worth reading. Giving you many other ways to monetize. You could even just use it as a promotional tool so it doesn’t last for ever.

  • Suraj Duggirala

    I like the idea but wouldn’t it make more sense to give the reader an amount less than the original price of the book. This wouldn’t scare away publishers while at the same time making readers earn their own discount!?

  • King43


  • Proof of concept: Europe and America and most importantly, Australia (Oz is a clear mini-model example).

  • Brilliant riposte! :-)
    I’ve just found this Site and proved another old saw:
    “When the pupil is ready, the teacher will come.”
    An intelligent Site with intelligent reader comments/participation!
    KK is what I thought I would eventually be so many generations ago…

  • Amazon did. They spy on the Kindlites now…….

  • I KNOW all I’m reading here was 3 years ago – BUT I just got here – by accident(?)

    @gvanderleun: What a perfect description of the horns of this dilemma!

    Of course, we are ignoring the now out in the open Agenda 21 all-new implementation of both “1984” and “Big Brother” Manuals, which did neatly solve the problem of which was the better control mechanism.

    So this is/was academic, really?

  • abi

    Not sure if this is legal or not.

    How about paying the $6 if they rate and write a review of the book on Amazon. In this way, you’ll be partly paying for the publicity of the book. And also, people usually would provide above average review and ratings if they have managed to sit through the entire book.

  • Gary

    A quesion, Mr K, how do you evaluate a low completion rate of reading? I assume most people would agree that more people would finish reading what they buy if this were the scenario.

  • Nicholas Gruen

    Would be a great educational tool.

  • maryam

    thank you

  • It wouldn’t work. I’m reading a great (non fiction!) book at the moment – “Adapt” by Tim Harford, where systems such as this are put under the spotlight. If there’s a system, evolution type behaviour leads to creative and unforeseen solutions. In the example above, you’re NOT paying people to read books, you’re paying people to TURN PAGES at a predetermined rate. I could build a cheap robot out of Lego to do that for me all day every day, while I’m at work.

    Incidentally, I’m reading “Adapt” in paperback, so not sure how I could get the money back for that!

  • Elva Cutri-Osorio

    Brilliant! It rewards committed readers and encourages reading. Fun Tastic.

  • Dylan Blacksmith

    Such a wonderful idea. I wonder if something like this could transfer to other forms of intellectual property? Like music perhaps?

  • Harry John


  • Pascale Scheurer

    5 years later… our kids’ primary school uses “Accelerated Reader” for motivation and to check progress. From the website:
    “Hundreds of thousands of students take motivational reading practice quizzes with Accelerated Reader every day.” Hundreds of thousands every day!
    It works like this: “A student reads a book, takes an online quiz, and gets immediate feedback.” The quiz is ten questions long, takes just a few minutes. The school pays to use the service.
    Our kids like to accumulate millions of words for no external reason, its just points in a game, they can download a certificate at 1 million, 2 million etc. My 8-year-old read 5 million words in one year.
    It’s got to the point where if a book recommended by a friend or gifted by a grandparent isn’t on the system yet, they get annoyed. I’ve suggested they simply recommend it to AR for future inclusion. They would be very happy to write the ten questions for it and a review – that would be great feedback for emerging authors, agents and publishers. Now combine this with the 1000-True-Fans concept…

  • great idea but the biggest problem was the ability to read. Most poeple will avoid the payment when they have to do something they don’t like or intersted one.