I’ve been thinking a lot about the price of my Music in the Digital Age book this evening.

I listened to the Lean Blog podcast in which Mark Graban talked to Leanpub founders Peter Armstrong and Scott Patten, who talked about their philosophy for the business, and it started me thinking about the trajectory and the development of the book.

They made quite a convincing argument for the idea that a book-in-progress start off at a lower price, and then as it grows and improves, the price can go up. The people who have paid very little (or nothing) at the start are thereby rewarded for their input and early support, and there is an incentive to get in early.

Essentially, you could call that the Amie Street ‘demand-based’ pricing model. And it seems like quite a good idea on first impressions.

The case for free

I originally made a case for the book to be available for free, which I still think is a good idea. I don’t want to stop people from reading what I have to say if they can’t afford to buy the book. That would be ridiculous.

However, you can (and will always be able to) download a free sample of the book, which contains the first five chapters – in which I lay out the core of my ideas, the central argument and an explanation of my position about music in the digital age.

If you wanted to, you could just read that and pretty much understand what I’m trying to communicate. So – there’s a free option.

But I do like the idea of the whole book being available for free to anyone regardless of whether they can pay right at this moment. Ideally, I want people who can’t afford to buy my book to read it, and my aim is that the book should be part of the way that they become people who can afford to buy my book.

I even had an economist weigh in who seemed to think this was broadly a good idea. Or something about non-rivalrous goods and market structures where price was equal to marginal costs, something something.

The case for free at first

Here’s the other thing: I’ve made it possible for people to ‘buy’ the book for nothing (or whatever) on Leanpub, but then come back later once they’ve had a bit of a read and pay me later if they want to.

Check out The Cool Slidey Thing.

There are lots of extra gifts and rewards like downloads, physical books, consultancies and a chat over a pint for people who pay more using The Cool Slidey Thing. It’s a bit like Kickstarter, only there’s no jeopardy. This is all happening regardless of whether I hit some target.

I really like that idea because it means that people can be their own judge of the book’s worth, and can pay according to what they feel it contributes to them. And they can also be incentivised to pay more with the extra bits and pieces that they might like.

The case for a non-zero minimum

At its simplest, the question is simply: as the book grows and improves, does setting the minimum price at zero – even if the suggested price is $5 – undersell the book in some way?

But there’s more to it than that.

Here are some other questions I’m pondering:

1) Does making it free only for a limited time – or for the next 150 copies… or until it reaches 1000 downloads (or something like that) encourage a more rapid uptake, leading to a more vibrant community of readers, better feedback and an incentive for being in on the ground floor, as it were?

2) Does making the book available for free in perpetuity shortchange the people who make the book possible in the first place (the Leanpub guys, Scott and Peter) who are taking a zero cut on zero price downloads?

3) Anecdotally, the people who are paying for the book are typically reading the book more closely and feeding back. Does that mean that paying encourages engagement, or that an engaged person is more likely to pay regardless of what the minimum happens to be?

4) Given that the people who are translating it into other languages are on a 50/50 deal with me for their version of the book, and that’s also currently on a ‘minimum free’ deal – should I change the terms there? I genuinely want to be able to give them money for all the work they’re putting in – but it would seem odd to me if the Spanish version was more expensive than the English version.

This requires further reflection

So… it’s complicated. I genuinely don’t know the answer – and I’m being pulled in both directions.

And frankly, yes – there is the obvious ingredient number 5, which is that I would rather make more money than less. But that’s certainly not the only factor, and nor is it even the most important one. But it would be dishonest to suggest that it’s not really a consideraion.

Perhaps I should leave it for a while and see if people do start using The Cool Slidey Thing.

But I’m genuinely curious. What do you think?