Amazon May Want Customers to Pay to Search Inside the Book One of the key innovations Amazon (AMZN) implemented on its way to becoming the largest online book retailer in the country was to allow its customers to preview snippets of books they might want to purchase. "Try before you buy" was hardly a new concept, but in Amazon's hands, the "search inside this book" feature became a core component of a successful business model.

But a new patent granted earlier this week by the U.S. Trademark & Patent Office suggests Amazon may be rethinking its free preview concept. According to TechFlash, the patent, which was first filed in 2004 and lists CEO Jeff Bezos among the inventors, envisions a system in which consumers "pay different amounts to view portions of content from the electronic form of a work," ranging from mere words to phrases to individual chapters.

Why mess with what seems to be a good thing? Even in the introduction to the patent filing, Amazon says that customers unhappy with a particular purchase may find returning it "oftentimes a time-consuming process," and notes that one way to avoid such frustration is to allow potential buyers to preview items for free, "essentially the electronic equivalent of browsing through the pages of a book or other published work in traditional brick-and-mortar stores."

The problem, per Amazon, arises when potential customers become "loath to pay for a work when they can view the work for free," and try to search for as much material as they can gratis instead, thereby depriving both the retailer and the publisher of a sale -- especially since making free previews available costs both parties money.

Thus, the idea of asking customers to pay a variable fee to preview books and other published materials, depending on how much of said material is searched. There would even be some sort of incentive for the now-paying customers: By paying to preview content, they could earn discounts or credits which could be applied to future purchases.

Pay to Browse System Would Be a Sop to Publishers


One example cited in the patent application was of a customer who paid $1 to preview a book by Stephen King. After deciding to buy the book, the customer would then pay $1 less on another book of his. Alternatively, if the customer decided to preview enough Stephen King novels such that he or she had paid the equivalent of Amazon's discounted price for a King hardcover title, that book would, in effect, be free for the customer.

An Amazon spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment on why the company would want to introduce a pay-to-preview service, but if implemented, it would seem more likely to be a move to appease publishers worried about the effects of piracy, and increasingly discomfited by the thought of a critical mass of the e-reading public able to download substantial portions of books at no cost. This same line of thinking played a part in the initial (and litigious) opposition to Google Book Search, a project whose ultimate fate still rests in the hands of a Manhattan's federal court.

That's because a pay-to-preview system runs counter to the needs of consumers who want to know as quickly as possible whether a book or magazine is worth shelling out a few bucks over. And as a TechFlash commenter points out, turning what's now an easy process of searching portions of texts for free into a more laborious affair would have the same effect as charging an entry fee to a chain bookstore. No matter how seriously any brick-and-mortar company might entertain that notion, they have enough problems with their bottom line to ever make a move that would so alienate their customer base.

Amazon, being in a different league and using a different business model, has less to worry about. But all it takes is one flat-footed move to drive away customers, and charging them for the privilege of previewing once-free content is a sure way to send them looking elsewhere for their try-before-they-buy book needs.

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patentlit777

Let's hope Amazon opts not to implement the technology protected by this patent. Otherwise, I'm afraid that its days of dominance in online book sales will be numbered, as a competitor that allows a measure of free searching will start to offer Amazon serious competition. http://www.generalpatent.com/media/videos/general-patent-gets-results-its-clients

October 04 2010 at 5:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
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September 28 2010 at 10:01 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
sawnjt01

Amazon must have been poorly advised by a group completely disconnected from customer reality. I will never pay to check out an item that I might purchase. If you own stock in this company you may want to get out early or risk going down with the ship. It will take years, if the company survives, to get the customer base back. Are there any intelligent people running these companies?

September 27 2010 at 5:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
NAOMI

I just purchased a Kindle and one of the great features is the opportunity to read a chapter or two of a book to determine if I wish to purchase it. So far, I have previewed 4 books and purchased 3, 75%, not bad. If I can't read some for free, I would be reluctant to purchase that book and the opportunity to sell it to me is gone. It would be a major mistake to not allow the policy of previewing a book for free to disappear. MAJOR MISTAKE!!!

September 27 2010 at 4:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
cheralu

whoever the genius is at Amazon who thought this one up should be kept away from sharp objects. This pay to peek idea is right up there with New Coke.

September 27 2010 at 4:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Virginia

Pay for a preview, not on your life. Since the publishers have raised the prices of eBooks it is more important than ever to be able to determine whether or not I want to read/purchase a particular book. The increased prices have already curtailed the number books I have purchased; adding additional fees of ANY KIND will further reduce my purchases. There is that old adage about cutting off one's nose to spite one's face, Amazon may wish to take note.

September 27 2010 at 2:45 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
patr728

Not a problem.....I'll just go to my local book store and check it out there. If I want to buy it and can get it cheaper via the internet, then I'll buy it there. Otherwise, Amazon, you might just be pricing yourself out of book sales! Why would anyone pay to 'look insie a book'? NOT ME!

September 27 2010 at 2:38 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
LtleManx

All one has to do is Google the title and find out about the book anyway! lol

September 27 2010 at 2:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
LtleManx

How stupid is this! The statement made in this article is ridiculous in saying people can read a book for free...BS. You're able to 'peek' a little bit of ONE chapter...nothing to get their pants in wad over. And if you bought three books that you had already read...then I feel sorry for you. Would'nt it have been easier for you to read the 'comments' from others who had purchased the book? They always leave something about the book, surely you would've picked up on that. I'll never pay to peek....never! lol

September 27 2010 at 2:06 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
Sue

I guess I'm hopelessly behind the times. It used to be a given that the number 1 business rule was, "Don't piss off your good customers." These past few years, that's what the banks and credit card companies have been doing. And, now this. I still think it's a bad business move.

September 27 2010 at 2:05 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply