ValoBox launches pay-by-the-piece ebooks with O’Reilly and Guardian

UK-based startup ValoBox is launching “pay-as-you-go” ebooks, letting readers pay for ebooks in chunks that they can read on the web.

The company is working with titles from O’Reilly in the US and Profile, Guardian Books, Constable & Robinson and SnowBooks in the UK.

ValoBox, which announced its publisher lineup at the Books In Browsers conference in San Francisco on Thursday, allows readers to search the text of a participating publisher’s book and then buy individual chapters or pages.

Publishers set an ebook’s price and ValoBox splits it up, primarily based on the book’s table of contents.

“We’re interested in the way micro-purchasing works within books,” cofounder and CEO Anna Lewis told me in a meeting at the Frankfurt Book Fair. “Some content lends itself well to being available on a page-purchase level, and some publishers have said they want a one-chapter minimum.”

Publishers receive a minimum of 60 percent of sales and an additional 25 percent when they sell it through their own channels. Readers can also share content and will receive a 25 percent affiliate fee if someone buys it through their link. ValoBox takes a 15 percent cut of each sale.

I asked Lewis and her cofounder, Oliver Brooks, why a micropayments model will work for ebooks when it largely hasn’t for newspapers. Brooks cited the “accessibility of the purchase” through ValoBooks. “Quite a few micropayment sites would require you to check out to make a small purchase,” he said.

ValoBox’s model is prepaid and users get $2 of credit to start. Lewis and Brooks said the┬ámodel should be useful whenever “people use books as ‘extra material that people can refer to’ — a community talking about what they’re interested in, gardening, recipes, etc. You could say, ‘here’s the book, and I recommend chapter four.'”

While ┬áValoBox’s reading is entirely web-based for now, the company plans to add “data portability” that would allow readers to download the content they’ve bought.

Lewis and Brooks previously founded self-publishing site CompletelyNovel.