March 7, 2003
Given that Oprah is reviving her book club and featuring a host of classics that are mostly, one presumes, in the public domain, it seems like a tremendous opportunity to show the value of works that are unencumbered by restrictive copyright limitations.
I think it might make sense to sell a device (a Pocket PC or Tablet PC, perhaps?) with a subscription that guarantees a copy of a complete, annotated text of each book as it's selected for the club. The book would, of course, be delivered digitally, along with hyperlinks to related resources. But readers would also be able to share and publish their thoughts on the books, and create derivative works or other uses of the text right from the device.
The opportunity for the device retailers is tremendous. If the device is cheap enough, they could sell the subscription at a rate that would subsidize some of the hardware cost, and present it to the reader as a simpler purchase than buying each of the individual works at a bookstore or online retailer. And for the readers, the involvement with the book would be greatly increased by the chance to interact with the author's work in ways that are prohibited by the current intellectual property regime that controls more contemporary works.
Of course, it might be possible to do all of this without the device. You could just build a web community to service this audience. It seems like a close fit for efforts like eat more words. But I think the audience and market are finally there for the switch to a digital context, and a bundling deal just clicks with my gut sense of how this book club should be sold.
It's been instructive for me lately to watch the travails of graduate level students struggling with dozens of bulky books. For them, it'd be an easy sell to advocate moving all of their textbooks to one lightweight, searchable device. But the chicken and egg problem preventing that option from being available to most students is that there isn't a mass market for the device outside of academia. I submit that Oprah's Book Club members, with their regular, predictable purchases of books that are easily converted (or already available) in digital form, we've got a chance to make as big a shift to digital content in the publishing industry as we've had in the recording industry.
Let me know when I can buy one.