Will readers buy e-books in pay-what-you-want bundles?

Will readers buy e-books in pay-what-you-want bundles? Photo: Karl Hilzinger

One of the fundamental design principles of the internet is its distributed and routable nature. It was designed to work around parts of the network that have been taken offline. We've seen it time and time again that this fluidity also helps route around censorship, legislation and middlemen.

The ability to use the internet to gather technical resources, like-minded individuals and creativity has led to some very interesting products and services that bend traditional business and distribution models.

Last week The Humble Bundle group released their first e-book bundle to see if their successful formula for independent games would translate to books.

In 2010, Wolfire Games, inspired by Valve's Steam distribution platform, attempted to gather small independent developers to sell, for a limited time, a collection (which they called a bundle) of five games.

This temporary collaboration for the purposes of being their own distributors was fairly unique at the time. Independent studios were still largely ignored by the population. It wasn't until breakout successes of World of Goo by 2D Boy and Minecraft by Mojang that the public started to pay attention.

What made the Humble Indie Bundle, as it became known, transcend the usual publishing model was that they were completely transparent. You could buy the bundle paying what you thought it was worth. You could set the total price and the ratio that each studio got as their cut as well as a tip for Humble Bundle itself and charities that the bundle aligns itself with.

The Humble Bundle site would display all manner of statistics showing how much people were paying, the average price and proportions that each entity was receiving. This instant feedback made you feel part of a community supporting the developers and charities in a meaningful way.

Key to the Bundle's success in my opinion, is games were published on Windows, Mac and Linux-based systems without digital rights management (for the most part). This decision made the games available to the widest audience possible and appealed to the spirit of independence of the developers and their fans.

In a clever move, comparing spend by operating system created a sense of competition while showing that though gaming on Mac and Linux were not the lion's share, they were well represented and in dollars spent per bundle, were above average.

Now on the 14th release, the Humble Bundles have added Android versions and a music bundle. The inclusion of the book bundle completes the mixed media offering. At the end of the bundle purchase period we will see how successfully the concept translates to books.

According to analysis compiled by Josh "Cheeseness" Bush the bundles, as at October 12, have generated total payments in excess of $US23 million.

The Humble Bundles represent the best aspects of the web - self-organising, direct, inclusive and creative. In almost every aspect the Humble Bundle experiment broke all the established business rules of the day and showed a glimpse of a future where content creators, consumers and charities can all benefit.

I am excited to see what other industries and independent groups can leverage this approach to grow new kinds of offerings as well as how the traditional businesses respond.

Authors whose work feature in The Humble eBook Bundle are Neil Gaiman, Dave McKean, John Scalzi, Cory Doctorow, Paolo Bacigalupi, Lauren Beukes, Mercedes Lackey and Kelly Link.

You can see more at www.humblebundle.com

Have you bought a bundle before? What has your experience been?

This author is on Google+