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Man Booker Prize Winners go digital – but are beaten there by the Classics

It’s interesting to hear that the publishing industry are copying some of the online sales ideas that the popular music industry has initiated. Most interesting is that the move to make the shortlisted Man Booker Prize novels available online for free/perhaps an “Honesty Box” charge comes from the publishers, not the authors themselves (see Times article, below).

I think that the whole books should be available – people will still buy the paper version, as – lets face it – you can’t snuggle up in bed with a good laptop, or lazily sunbathe with a great holiday mobile phone screen, glinting in the sun. However, for people whose screens accompany them on their commutes, lunch hours and quiet afternoons in the coffee house, the e-version is a boon.

The e-book idea is not new: I remember being given a horrid grey “tablet” e-book reader to trial by Penguin in 2000. It didn’t come with any texts – I had to find them myself. Luckily I knew where to look, as I’d been involved in a project that digitised and tagged Shakespeare’s texts with interpretative mark-up at Uni. First stop Project Gutenberg :

which is the work of 10s of 1000s of volunteers’ work, culminating in 20,000 books made available for free online and for download. About 80,000 books in over 50 languages are downloaded weekly.

For nearly all uses, in nearly all parts of the world, the opening words of all of the eBooks apply: “This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.org.” The Project Gutenberg license addresses two categories of ebooks:

  • public domain books whose copyright has expired in the United States, and
  • copyrighted books whose author gave Project Gutenberg permission to distribute them.

So I’ve been re-reading Dickens of late – (e-books downloaded from Gutenberg onto my laptop – the original e-book tablet was NOT cool geek chic accessorising) – his episodic style suits my itinerant lifestyle. At home, I’ve got the paperback to read before I go to sleep. On the road, I have the full e-book text, which I read in my favourite text editor. Next, it’s a re-read of Homer’s Illiad – I think the e-version (plus laptop) may be lighter than the hardback book. Try it and let me know how you get on!

Dalya Alberge, Arts Correspondent of the The Times on October 18, 2007 reports that:

Every novel on Man Booker Prize shortlist to be available free for online readers

“The Man Booker Prize has been criticised over the years for selecting dark, unreadable and worthy tomes unlike the winners of other more populist literary prizes.

Now, in the week that Anne Enright became its 2007 winner, it is shaking off criticisms of being elitist and out of touch by taking the radical step of placing all its shortlisted novels online, available free to anyone worldwide.

Negotiations are under way with the British Council and publishers over digitising the novels and reaching parts – particularly in Africa and Asia – that the actual books would not otherwise reach.

The downloads will not impact on sales, it is thought. If readers like a novel tasted on the internet, they may just be inspired to buy the actual book.

Hearing about the initiative from The Times yesterday, Robin Robertson, deputy publishing director of Jonathan Cape – Enright’s publisher – likened it to Radiohead’s experiment this month in which the new album, Rainbows, became downloadable on an “honesty box” basis. An internet survey of 3,000 people who downloaded the album found that most paid an average of £4, although others claiming to have paid more than £40.

Mr Robertson thought that a partial reproduction rather than an entire book was preferable.”