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Electric Book Works

A case study on monetizing open-access content — Grant Report #1

Lauren Ellwood
Publishing specialist
・4 min read

Project Update

At Electric Book Works we believe that, where possible, content should be published openly and freely available. We were excited to receive funding from the Grant for the Web project which we have put towards experimenting with forward-thinking ways to generate income on open-content websites – while always protecting the privacy of users and the quality of our work. As book production evolves and books are no longer only available in print but also as websites, ebooks, and PDFs, the need for research into new ethical revenue streams becomes even more important.

Our research into the use of web monetization on open-content websites is well underway. We spent the first period of the project working on the integration of web monetization support into a selection of our existing websites. This involved identifying and overcoming any technical constraints that arose during implementation, and coordinating the logistics of the study alongside our partner sites who agreed to participate in the research.

Once the technicalities were finalised, our case study commenced on 1 December 2020 when web monetization was enabled on our eight partner sites.

Progress on objectives

Our project has two main objectives; collecting and sharing interesting data as a case study, and adding web monetization support to our open-source Electric Book template as core functionality. We have made significant progress towards both of these.

Initial results of the study show almost no readers using web monetization across our partner sites. This is not entirely surprising, given how new web monetization is. To recap, apart from adding some generic disclosure text to their about pages, we chose deliberately not to promote web monetization on our partner sites for the duration of the study – we only wanted to see what proportion of organic visitors have web monetization enabled.

While adding web monetization to a site is simple, tracking its use is not necessarily – and this is by design, since web monetization prioritises user privacy. So our research implementation has raised interesting technical and ethical discussions that we will share more about in our final report.

The technical work involved in the implementation of the case study will also be extended into the Electric Book template, allowing users to easily turn on basic web monetization in any project developed with the Electric Book template in future. The Electric Book template is an open-source template that produces website, ebook, app, and print books from a single content source. It is packed with features for professional book production that benefit authors or publishing teams immensely when creating open-access content of a high quality.

Key activities

The primary activity for the case study is to enable web monetization on a range of open-content websites. We reached this goal at the end of November last year, having added web monetization functionality to the following websites:

  • bookdash.org
  • core-econ.org/the-economy
  • core-econ.org/espp
  • core-econ.org/doing-economics
  • bettercare.co.za/learn
  • dailymaverick.co.za/gamechanger
  • lawfulliving.co.za
  • myconstitution.co.za

By implementing web monetization 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 its potential.

Communications and marketing

We published a blog post on our website outlining our case study and one of our partner sites, CORE Economics, also published a blog post about their participation in the study.

What’s next?

The remainder of the work involves monitoring the progress of the study and, once this concludes at the end of March 2021, drawing up a final project report.

This report will outline the findings of our study as well as a detailed account of the technical challenges we overcame during implementation. It will include a short, concrete description of how we implemented basic web monetization and elaborate on the considerations we took as a team to ensure we could track the use of web monetization on our partner sites while maintaining user privacy. This report will be published on the web monetization community platform and at electricbookworks.com/thinking.

We will also enable web monetization support in our open-source Electric Book template.

We hope to have all of these elements finalised by mid-April 2021.

What community support would benefit your project?

We would love to connect with fellow grantees in the publishing community to hear of their experiences in improving the sustainability of open-content websites using web monetization.

Relevant links/resources

Electric Book Works website
Electric Book Works twitter

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