The whole e-books vs. traditional books debate spins crazily about one question: What is a book, anyhow?
Let’s pursue that question a step further: What is a reader?
Science-fiction (etc.) author Cory Doctorow tackles both questions in a very interesting project of his, called With a Little Help. It’s a self-published “book” — an anthology of short fiction — available in a dizzying variety of forms. For starters, he’s selling multiple physical editions of the anthology: paperback and hardcover print editions, and CDs of an audiobook version. He’s taken it a step further, though, by offering With a Little Help in multiple e-book formats (from plain text on up to EPUB, MOBI, and so on) and multiple audiobook formats (MP3, WAV, OGG)… and all the downloads are free.
He’s taking the free-digital-download release further:
The full text of all the stories in this collection is available as free downloads under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license, meaning that you can copy them and make your own versions, but you can’t make money off them and you have to let others remix your creations. The audiobooks are likewise available as free downloads on the same terms.
I myself am not interested in remixing anything, but I thought you’d enjoy this story, “The Right Book” (read by Neil Gaiman). If you’d like to read along, the text is here (opens in new window/tab). It’s a tale reaching 150 years into the future, giving us a peek into not just how books (or “books”) might be sold, but how the readers (or “readers”) of books may change as well.
[Click Play button to begin listening. While audio is playing, volume control appears at left — a row of little vertical bars. This clip is 17:54 long.]