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OpenBooks, the world’s first read-first, pay-what-you-want later e-book store, launched at the London Book Fair last week. The pay-what-you-want model has been tried before in other sectors – most famously by Radiohead for its 2007 album In Rainbows – but this e-book store actively wants potential buyers to consume content before paying. Its success (or otherwise) could have implications for the wider digital media market.

OpenBooks turns the traditional business model on its head

OpenBooks is an independent Polish e-bookstore, launched on April 14, 2015, following a public beta launch in January 2015. Not only does OpenBooks encourage potential buyers to download an e-book without paying a penny and share that e-book as widely as possible, there are no fixed prices for books – readers simply pay what they think the book was worth. Authors receive a generous fixed 70% revenue share.

Currently the service has just 266 books available from 115 authors. When Ovum spoke to OpenBooks, these books had been downloaded over 9,800 times with 312 contributions from 380 users. These books are all self-published and are all available to download without having to sign up for an account and without digital rights management (DRM), meaning that there are no restrictions as to which devices they can be read on. This policy ties into the store’s ethos of sharing without restriction – readers can copy and send their e-books as many times as they like.

OpenBooks has ties to other ground-breaking digital media firms: Founder Michal Kicinski is also the co-founder of games developer CD Projekt RED and DRM-free games distributor CD Projekt also has a DRM-free policy; after launching several games in the critically-acclaimed The Witcher series with DRM, all its new releases will be DRM-free, a policy not common in the games industry.

Given OpenBooks’ links to other successful digital media businesses, it would be hasty to dismiss its strategy as merely a bold if doomed experiment. However, few publishers have so far been willing to move away from DRM and the small number of payments made so far compared with the number of books downloaded is unlikely to persuade them to join just yet.


Further reading

"On the Radar: Blendle", ME0002-000535 (August 2014)

Digital Consumer Publishing: The Road to 2018, ME0002-000522 (July 2014)


Charlotte Miller, Research Analyst, Digital Media

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