Paid learners

In an article from January this year, Kevin Kelly has described an interesting model to pay people to read books in order to motivate them to read from cover to cover. He pointed out that e-book readers could track reading behavior and compare it to the norm of certain metrics to determine whether that person is really reading or just turning pages. He stated the problem that people bought books, but rarely finished them.

Today, readers have too much information that has started to saturate them. They can no longer easily find things that are of real value, things that they haven't seen before. One of the most common causes for people to dislike books is that they sound much like title X. For instance, we have read in countless books the following sentence: "With the advent of Internet we have gained access to some unprecedented opportunities..." bla, bla, bla. Books can't be written this way, even if that's the introductory sentence. Cliches are the book's biggest cancer. Even programmers have to follow the "Don't repeat yourself" principle.

Different book covers don't guarantee lack of duplicate content. It's not clear then if authors should account or discount for that fact based on the model above. Paying people to read something they learned before (possibly from another author), even when found in a new book, doesn't seem right. However, every book can generate new mental associations that more than compensate for the possible repetition of the material. But attempting to track such associations would be close to impossible, since they'll differ for every person.

Readers are very different, which can make the measurements of the proposed metrics hard enough. A reader can take a book, read a bit, leave it for a month or more, because of temporarily losing interest, and then return to it later when she finds more information to support her interest. Many people like to alternate what they do in order to keep their engagement high. Some people read faster, some slower, some need to reread sentences to fully understand the meaning, some need to highlight things. We can't put all readers under a common denominator so easily.

Finishing books isn't essential, but finishing them with proper understanding is. Where books can be helpful is with reducing the overall time for readers to acquire a certain knowledge. To make books more attractive, authors might seek more quantifiable ways to say: "The material here is equivalent to approximately A days/weeks presence in course B by instructor C in university D." If this statement is specific enough and truthy, it means that the book was unique enough to be of interest too. The gains of shortening the learning times will be enough to offset the time spent by the reader. The only way a software could gauge the level of the reader's understanding of the material is through some kind of a test or quiz. But then, once the answers become well-known, it won't be an accurate measure anymore.

A self-motivated learner can gain a lot more value of going through many books at once than simply through being a passive listener in lectures that can take years. If we look at both variants relative to the lifetime of a reader, their effect will be negligible anyway. What needs to be financially stimulated is not the reader or the book as media, but the research for better, faster and more efficient ways to deliver the knowledge to learners. In the long-term, the best media will always be replaced, no matter if it has the current form of a book, audio CD or something else. Moreover, universities can offer some kind of small certificate when they can prove through test or other means that someone (no matter if student or adult) understood the material from a book, while also offering other complementary educational methods under the same roof. These certificates can be a better proof that someone has understood the material than simply to rely on a breakable device-in-trend to know everything. While thinking about the different advantages and disadvantages of different educational methods, we must acknowledge that different people have different preferences. It makes no sense to educate them in university only to a certain extent if they'll be left later anyway. Even an adult has different educational needs, depending on what he's currently doing and it's not fair to let these willing-to-change people without further support. Universities shouldn't divide society in young and old, but rather show that although being different, these groups still have much in common.

Books have an expiry date, but many authors continue to sell them after that. Should a person still be paid for reading something outdated, just because the author is interested in that? This isn't a simple question to answer. We could perceive the 1$ in the model above as a marketing expense for a possibly mediocre book, because the author of a truly great one wouldn't need to push it that hard.

As readers, we read books not to finish them, but to extract something of value that we could apply in real life even if not having an immediate chance. If the practicality of the knowledge is what we are interested in, then we'll just switch to a book that offers more value and not to one that has fewer pages or is easier to complete. A book with more pages can still be easier to finish depending on the writing style of the author. If a reader should be paid separately for the application of what he learned, especially when he'll tend to do everything to avoid it, is something to consider too. This application could potentially be even more important for the author than the simple fact of a book finished.

The gain of reading through the entire book must exceed the pain of lost time and it's mainly the author who can influence this relationship. In some situations time will be more valuable than knowledge, especially when we should act quickly midst high uncertainty. A reader in one situation doesn't equal the same reader in another.

The danger of a person deciding to "read" the same book on a different device just to get one more dollar means that there must be a central store in the cloud for every person and book on the planet. Who will be so kind to support this?

What are the implications of paying the reader? Should professors suddenly start to pay students for their years of study to increase their graduation rate? If yes, what should be the ratio between their payment and the author's payment to be still perceived as fair? Seeking ways to corrupt learning even more doesn't do anyone good.

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