Electric Book Works Publishing reinvented for the digital age

Researching new tech to monetize online content

Update, 24 January 2022: For a detailed breakdown of our research methodologies and findings, see our final report for this case study on the Web Monetization Community Forum.

At Electric Book Works we believe that, where possible, content should be published openly and freely available, and that we should experiment with forward-thinking ways to generate income – while always protecting the privacy of users and the quality of our work.

In one of those experiments, we’re studying a new approach to funding online content funded by the Grant for the Web, a consortium of open-software organisations. Specifically, we’re studying the potential of web monetization, an open and privacy-focused standard that lets users support content creators financially.

A challenge that open-access publications often face is staying sustainable while providing high-quality content for free online. As book production evolves and books are no longer only available in print but also as websites, ebooks, and PDFs, the need for new ethical revenue streams becomes even more important.

In its simplest form, web monetization lets website users choose to pay a website tiny amounts from a private wallet as they browse that site – a common amount is $0.36 per hour. When a user has set up their wallet and visits the site, the site accepts a stream of very, very small payments from that user, without the user having to do anything.

While small, regular payments to websites are nothing new, what’s new here is that the payments are automated in a way that makes paying for content frictionless and private. This way, users can choose to support content creators. And website creators can choose to provide extra value to users with these wallets.

Web monetization has the potential to replace toxic advertising, to lower the cost of online content, and to better protect users’ privacy. You can read more about how web monetization works on the Grant for the Web site.

For our case study, we will enable web monetization on several partner websites for a period of four months, and then we will report openly on our findings. By implementing in the same way for the same period of time over several open-content sites, we should be able to compare results across content genres and territories, hopefully allowing us and others to better understand the potential for earning money with web monetization.

For this study, there will be no difference at all between what users with or without a wallet will see on our sites.

We would like to thank our partners CORE, Book Dash, Bettercare, Daily Maverick (We Have A Game Changer), Lawful Living, and My Constitution for agreeing to participate in our case study. We hope that research like this will inspire others to share knowledge and publish openly, too.

Lauren Ellwood 10 November 2020