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Community Pricing for Books

The more I look at the TOC Conference program, the more I see creative sessions on social media. Right now, I’m in a session from Logos Bible Software talking about their creative pre-publication publishing model. Logos puts out electronic editions of religious and scholarly reference works, converting the works from the original.

Basically, they study their costs, and figure out how much it will cost to produce and sell a given book. They then put it out on their site, and via email to their list of 500,000 interested customers. People register their interest and put in pre-orders. Once Logos gets enough commitment from their audience, they put the project under development.

They also do what they call community pricing, where they don’t know how to set the price. Here, they expose the price curve to their users, letting users choose the price they are willing to pay. Once the price crosses the line that allows them to cover their costs, they give that “best price” to their pre-order customers (regardless of which price they actually chose when voting.) They then raise the price to the point on the curve that shows best profit for Logos, for customers who weren’t part of the original subscription. In this way, they make money on every product they produce (much like threadless.com, which aggregates demand (but doesn’t set pricing) before producing a product.) To me, this is a major trend for the future of manufacturing, but that’s another topic….

Very cool. That’s a different take on community! I’d love to see us have something like this for O’Reilly. (We’re hoping to license Logos’ software, but if we can’t, we’ll be looking to build it.) There are a lot of books we hesitate to publish in today’s challenged computer book marketplace. A tool like this would help the community tell us how much we’d have to charge to publish narrowcast books.

Meanwhile, we’re hearing community crop up in other sessions later. Shortly, Ben Vershbow is doing a session on Books as Conversations, Derek Powazek on Audience as Authors, Gavin Bell of Nature on From Buyers of Books to a Community of Readers, and perhaps with a more “traditional” take on what online community might mean to publishers, Craig Miller of on Reaching the MySpace Generation.

I’m really impressed by the creativity we’re starting to see in the publishing community. Last year’s conference mainly featured web 2.0 stories to inspire publishers. This time round, we’re hearing from publishers who are doing really creative work.

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  • The “community pricing” sounds to me like the “reverse dutch auction” model, which was made famous in the geek-crowd by being how slashdot and then Google went public.

    It’s extremely fair, and very open and public. Unlike the current dominating models for pricing books and pricing IPOs.

  • I think, this is a very good model. Everybody could help finding an appropriate price for something. An the publisher soon knows, how much his product is worth.

  • Electronic editions? Meaning E-Books?
    I find it hard to see that there would be much cost. Remove the spine, scan the pages, run OCR, correct the text, and then use Adobe Indesign to lay out the book as a PDF. Not much cost in that. $20 seems rather steep as a proposed price. The model of pricing seems to be simply a method of discovering “what the market will bear” while I prefer the “what is a fair price” method. . .

  • “We’re hoping to license Logos’ software, but if we can’t, we’ll be looking to build it.”

    At least you are giving them the choice. You love the technology, you want to pay them for it, but if they don’t want to sell it then you will build it yourself and then license it to others. Their best choice is to license it, they get paid instead of pirated.

  • This is probably an obvious point, but the Internet transformed publishing and media before it transformed other industries (like entertainment, ecommerce). I feel like entertainment is where publishing folks were at in the late 1990s.

    Publishers have always been adventurous and willing to try new methods, but the experimentation and innovation I’ve seen in the last two or three years has blown me away. I think evolving standards (both in css and special dialects like .epub) have helped, and so have advances in portable technology.

  • Clive Warner: I suspect that you have never actually done this; elsewise, you would not have included “correct the text” in a list of trivialities. It’s a long, labor-intensive process, especially for old books that are not in ideal condition and may not have been printed on especially smooth paper.

    There is, I suspect, also a fair bit of art in getting such things to go through the scanner in ways that will produce high-quality scans without mangled pages and distortions.

  • Jared

    Because of the scarcity and value of the older books recreated removing the spine is not on option. I suspect that drives the price up as well.