Author decides to copy Radiohead’s business model

Here’s an experiment to keep a close eye on, if you’re curious about new business models for publishing books in the digital age. Publishers Faber and historian Ben Wilson are taking a page from Radiohead’s playbook and releasing Wilson’s latest book in digital form on a pay-what-you-like basis:

Wilson’s examination of the value and meaning of liberty will be available to download on 27 April, six weeks before it is published on paper at £14.99, with readers given the freedom to set their own price, or even download it for free.

It’s a strategy Wilson, whose two previous books were published conventionally by Faber as hardbacks, admits is “a gamble”. When he first heard about the “frightening idea of giving the book away”, his reaction was surprise. “I’ve published before,” he explains, “and you have that excitement of a book in physical form, so that’s what you expect”. But after a while “it clicked together so well with what I wanted to do with the book – the campaigning edge – that it made a lot of sense.”

It’s good to see that Wilson and Faber haven’t made the usual mistake with the Radiohead experiment, in that they’re plainly seeing it as being a publicity play as opposed to the main income stream. However, I think it fair to say that Wilson isn’t quite a household name like Radiohead (hence there’s nowhere near the same level of expectation around the launch) and that the books business is still very different to the music business (although they’re getting closer), so while the model is similar we’d all be foolish to expect a similar pattern of results.

But it’s very interesting to see Faber taking this step, not just grappling with the new technology of ebooks as a format but with the new economics of electronic media, where free is – for better or for worse – the best way of getting your product into people’s minds (and memory sticks). It also makes Harpercollins’ claims about ebook pricing look even more ropey… [via GalleyCat]