Sunday, July 25, 2004

The Old, New Thing: On-Demand, Public Domain Book Publishing

Yesterday, I had a tremendously disappointing trip to Barnes & Noble. No, it wasn't as part of my WiFi scavenging across New York -- I was actually in the bookstore to buy a book.

For a host of reasons (but mostly the feeling that I'm still working my way through the collegiate corpus) I'm drawn to time-tested works of literature. In search of the what amounts to Ye Olde Fictione section, I took the escalator to the third floor.

That's when I saw it.

Barnes & Noble has a Barnes & Noble Classics section, a row unto itself populated with rather inexpensive editions of some of the world's finest literature, published under Barnes & Noble cover. I grabbed a Chekhov, since I've somehow managed to avoid reading Chekhov up till this point.

As I departed the bookstore, the gravity of this purchase dawned on me. Chekhov is free. I paid a publicly-trade entity for something that I already own.

For those unfamiliar with copyright limitations, I'll tell you as much as I know. The US copyrights have expired on all works produced before 1923. Twain, Melville, the first jazz recordings, everything -- it's in the public domain. Everything after 1923 is still under protection (thanks to the utterly nefarious Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act), but I digress.

My point is that I paid $9 to have Anton Chekhov's work bound and distributed by Barnes & Noble, and to have a professor add a forward and afterward to a handful of Chekhov's short stories.

Many of my readers will be familiar with the politics of the eBook industry & how the major players in that industry (an industry with this issue firmly in its sights) were gobbled up and subsequently decimated by Gemstar. Absent a healthy eBook industry or electronic paper of breakthrough quality, I don't think a new computer presents a solution here.

Let's put paper books in local coffee shops & local bookstores

I want On-Demand Book Publishers to link up with Project Gutenberg and create a book printing and binding system that would fit in a kiosk that would fit in a bookstore or coffee shop. The kiosk would be directly linked to Project Gutenberg, and you could only print public domain literature.

I'll have a latte, a brownie, and The Brothers Karamazov.

Let's have the Gates Foundation (or Soros) write the check to get it started. Split the proceeds between Project Gutenberg and the local businesses.

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