Why Pay-Per-Chapter Sucks

I’m surprised at the number of people who still sell their fiction with a pay-by-installment model. The format is ¬†pretty simple to understand: I’ll give you a free first chapter, and then you need to pay me small amounts of money to read the subsequent ones. Some variations, however, are a lot nastier than you’d suppose: the writer puts 30 out of 35 chapters online, and then they spring a nasty surprise on everyone at the very end of their project: you need to pay $1 per chapter for the last 5 chapters! The ending’s not free, you suckers!

And I hate this. I think it’s stupid, and it’s ignorant, and that it does little for both the writer’s reputation and the good reader’s trust. The truth is that the Internet simply cannot tolerate pay-by-installment methods … and the one or two writers who think otherwise better get used to that, and quick. It’s been 9 years since Stephen King failed to get his readers to pay for The Plant. It’s about time people stop thinking they can sell their work like this.

But what are the problems with this format, and why? Apart from the obvious arrogance (how good do you think you are, to deserve my money?) I’m beginning to think that this model is but a mistaken carry-over from the software world – you know, the one where you download a trial edition and you pay to unlock the full version. But let’s be honest, shall we? Nobody – and I really mean nobody – previews a novel for a 30 day period. The parallels between software and writing vanish when we’re talking about business model, because they simply don’t share the same preconceptions. We don’t bat an eyelid when we’re asked to fork out for an unlock key, especially when we’ve tried out our preview version and we like what we see. But ask the same question after a first chapter? Forget about it, pal – I’m more likely to close the window and roll my eyes than I am to pay you. The only thing such a request accomplishes is that it tells me just how web-savvy you are … and I’m not likely to respect you for it.

The strange thing about the Internet, however, is that the preview idea works when you release the whole book – for free – online. You can then ask for financial contributions, or sell them paper/pdf versions of your book, and you’ll find that people will pay up when you do. There’s a principle at work here, one that works only on the Internet: the more you’re willing to give things out for free, the more likely people are to reward you.

I am now sick of online writers emailing and offering me previews of their work … but only after a small payment. The last one who did had a Flash website¬†– a Flash website! – and a badly designed one at that. It was bad enough to demand $1 payments for chapters 2 onwards … but to sell his work in Flash? That meant he didn’t trust me – or any of his potential readers – with copyable, piratable html. I closed his site within 30 seconds and deleted the email soon after.

The Internet’s an exciting place to write, really. You’ll meet amazing people, you’ll find new things to do, and there’s a boatload more new business models just waiting to be discovered. Just – please, you know? Don’t be selfish.

Note: if you want payment models that work, try reading up on MCM’s Novel+ format or John August’s Variant model.

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Category: Making Money · Writing Web Fiction