I’ve been fascinated by the idea of Total BooX since the first time I read about them, so the other day I when got an email saying their site had gone live, I immediately hurried over to see what I could see.

Total BooX is a pay-as-you-read service. Instead of buying a book outright, you download it for free and don’t pay anything until you begin reading. The more you read, the more you pay, up to the full list price of the book. But if you only read 10% of the book and say “Good lord, that heroine is an idiot,” you only pay 10% of the price. Figure out the killer and lose interest 50% of the way through the mystery and lose interest? You only pay for 50% of the book. Want to keep a TBR pile? No problem, because you don’t pay anything to download the book to your device, only when you read it.

Total BooX shelves on Android

Total BooX on my phone

There’s no devoted e-reader for Total BooX–you read your books on your tablet or phone. More devices, they say, are coming later. You need to use their software because that’s how they track the amount you’ve read of each book.

There are some issues: the bookstore has a limited selection as yet, as it doesn’t appear that any of the “Big 6” (Big 5?) publishers have yet decided to try it. But there’s some great old crime pulp, and Sourcebooks, a big romance publisher, has jumped into the pool. Horror publisher Prologue Books is in the mix, too, along with Constable & Robinson’s horror and erotica anthologies. (And speaking of anthologies, I should mention that in the Total BooX model, the % of pages of the book you read doesn’t have to be consecutive. You might read 2 short stories–the first and the last–that add up to 20% of the text, thus only paying 20% of the cover price.) There are plenty of free books, too, so you can see what you think of the interface before investing. And right now, they’re giving you a $3 credit to sign up.

All in all, I think it’s a fabulous idea on many levels. But first let me tell you a couple of the cons.

The biggest problem with TotalBooX is the bookstore.

  • Perhaps it’s merely a function of the fact that there aren’t all that many books in there yet, but it’s only going to get more befuddling and confusing as time goes on. Paranormal Romance seems to be shelved as often in fantasy as it is in romance, and romance itself is just one big category–no subgenres that might help you narrow down to what you want to read.
  • Likewise, there’s no “if you liked this, you might like…” so if you go through the mystery shelves and buy a book featuring Sherlock Holmes, it won’t tell you how many other Holmes volumes are available on the site.
  • There’s no rating system, so I can’t even mark reminders for myself. I suppose I could create a shelf of “good” books and a shelf of “bad” books so I could see whether I wanted to read other books by those authors, but that doesn’t seem terribly efficient.

The Reader itself is quite basic. You can bookmark things, but you can’t highlight or annotate. People have become used to those abilities, even just normal readers. There’s no built-in dictionary as you’d get with a Nook or Kindle formatted document. This limits the type of books people are apt to want to read using TotalBooX. Nothing too challenging, nothing you’re going to want to take notes on, etc. Of course, like the bookstore, the reader could be upgraded at any time to fix some of these issues.

As a reader, these are numerous. I can “taste test” pretty much anything. I can download a gajillion books to my iPad before a vacation and if I don’t read them, I don’t have to pay for them. I read a LOT, so the ability to give up on a book and not feel I have to finish it because I bought it is nice.

As a writer/publisher, the possibility of seeing real, true metrics of who’s reading the books, versus who’s buying them, is a super tempting. I am not sure whether TotalBooX is available to those who self-pub, but let’s assume for a minute that it is. Let’s say you create a really nice “package” for your first book that you’re self-pubbing–good blurbs, good cover copy, attractive cover–and you sell a bunch on Amazon and B&N and TotalBooX. All you know from A or B is that you sold the book. You don’t know whether buyers liked it. Whether they actually even finished it. So you don’t know whether they’re likely to buy your next book. But with TotalBooX, you can actually see where you lost reader interest. When your payments come in, you can tell that most people only read half the book. So there was a problem in the middle. Or maybe everyone read all the way through, which might indicate they want more in that same vein.

I’ve downloaded a few books to check out and we’ll see what happens. I think it’s a fascinating idea, and I’m all for anyone who will provide a new way get my “fix.”