Textbook Marketing, Radiohead Style

Imagine using a textbook free all semester—and then ponying up what, if anything, you thought it was worth. Noel Capon, a professor of marketing at Columbia Business School, has decided to try out that model with his latest textbook, Managing Marketing in the 21st Century.

Users go to the book’s Web site, enter an e-mail address, and get free online access (no downloads or printouts, though). A few months after signing up, they will receive an e-mail message asking them to pay whatever sum they deem appropriate. They can, of course, buy a printed copy of the book, for $45, and they’re encouraged to buy a companion volume, The Virgin Marketer, and a student study guide.

The book’s Web site compares the scheme to the band Radiohead’s release of its album In Rainbows, which listeners could download free. Mr. Capon says his idea was also inspired by a restaurant in north London that offered a pay-what-you-think-the-meal-is-worth menu. Half of whatever proceeds he gets will go toward publication costs and half toward college scholarships.

Does Mr. Capon’s publisher, Wessex Press, approve of the scheme? It has to. Wessex is the author’s own press. He set it up to produce and distribute Managing Marketing in the 21st Century after he grew tired of dealing with commercial publishers who handled too many competing—and expensive—textbooks. “After all these bad experiences, I decided to publish it myself,” he said.

“The leading book in my field is north of $150,” Mr. Capon told The Chronicle. “It’s just out of sight. It’s become this major social issue now.”

Altruism aside, Mr. Capon’s marketing scheme has a simple goal: to get his book into the hands of students and instructors. “This is my stuff,” he said. “I’d like to get it read and used around the world, subject to the financial constraint of having to pay my mortgage.” —Jennifer Howard

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