A shared pricing experiment for my book

My new book, Information Wants to be Shared, is now officially out. I’ll follow up a little later with more details regarding what it is about but if you have been a regular reader of this blog, some of the themes will be familiar. Back in December I realised that there was a common thread to them and so I wanted to use the new medium, the shorter eBook, as a way of communicating that thread. This is a popular business book rather than a book about academic research so there is an air of speculativeness in it. But it is a quick read (about 100 pages). And it has footnotes that, personally, I think add nicely to it.

Now the first, snarky remark somebody makes when you release a book about sharing information is that it is kind of hard to share eBooks. Now I didn’t face the same issues that Chris Anderson faced with Free in that sharing implied no price but there is still a challenge here. The book is about those challenges. Nonetheless, I believe it was very important to take that challenge head on and, as it turned out, the folks at Harvard Business Review Press were more than agreeable to some experimentation.

So the experiment is one that I outlined in a post back in 2010. The idea was that when a reader recommends a book to someone else they are performing an extremely valuable service to authors/publishers. The problem is that, while with physical books, lending between friends can perform that service trying the same thing for eBooks makes a mockery of the technology. Shared Amazon accounts get around this a little but not really.

Instead, I proposed an easy way of gifting a book to a friend. In particular, since this is a service, it should get a price to boot. So I suggested that if a reader wanted to gift a book to a friend, they could do so for a price that was a fraction of the book price. I imagined that you could pay a litte extra for the eBook and then be able to give a copy to a friend or two.

It turns out that precisely implementing this is a challenge. One thing in our favour is that books bought from the HBR site (as opposed to Apple or Amazon) are now DRM free and multi-format. That takes away the guess work you might have as to how your friend might read an eBook.

But actually implementing a shared pricing scheme was a bit more challenging. So here is the experiment they are running. If you buy my book (the price is $4.99) from HBR directly (which is DRM free and multi-format so it can be read on any device) or if you buy it from Amazon, Apple, B&N etc, you can flip to the last page of the book. You will see there a coupon. If you send that coupon to a friend, they can download the book from HBR (and HBR only) for just $0.99 (in its multi-format DRM free form). That makes sharing pretty easy and also really attractive.

Will this work? It is hard to know. HBR will keep stats on this and hopefully I can share them in the future. Are there risks? Absolutely. All my readers could form a collective and potentially buy one copy for $4.99 and then a million for $0.99. A disaster! Actually, no that sounds pretty darn good to me. (I won’t speak for my publisher).

9 Replies to “A shared pricing experiment for my book”

  1. On the small chance anyone isn’t aware, Abbie Hoffman wrote a book titled Steal This Book.


    “The book sold more than a quarter of a million copies between April and November 1971…..On the success of the book, Hoffman was quoted as saying, “It’s embarrassing when you try to overthrow the government and you wind up on the Best Seller’s List.” Hoffman would not respond to accusations that he had plagiarized the book, as claimed in an article by Izak Haber in Rolling Stone magazine (No. 92, 10 September 1971), entitled “How Abbie Hoffman Won My Heart and Stole Steal This Book”; Haber is acknowledged in the book as having done a great deal of the research.”

  2. This does sound pretty good. I always want to lend good books to friends, but the down side is that I often forget who I lent them to. This way I don’t need to remember.

    BTW, the title of this books sounds interesting, but i’m not sure I’d spend $4.99 on a book without the recommendation of someone whose opinion I value. Can anyone lend me a copy?

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