I’ve seen several softball pieces (such as this one) praising Penguin’s decision to release, on Amazon’s Kindle and Sony’s Reader, some classics of English literature, starting with Jane Austen, with certain extras, in multiple ebook formats. Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, for example, “will come with recipes from the era, copies of the book’s first reviews, and a primer on social etiquette circa 1813.” Another source adds “rules of period dancing, and illustrations of fashion, home decor, and architecture.”
I’m guessing that the etiquette primer will not be what makes ebooks mainstream. Although ebooks should have extras, those extras should take advantage of the interactive medium, not merely deliver more — and inferior — text. This reminds me of the early days of CDs, when all sorts of trivial extras (outtakes, alternate takes) were added to discs as selling points. More recently, it’s like the “deleted scenes” stuffed into DVDs. People, do you think those scenes were deleted because they were good?
What’s most galling, of course, is that Penguin isn’t attempting to increase interest in ebooks as a medium by making these classics, long past copyright, available in free, un-DRM-encumbered formats. In an old-meets-new mashup, publishers could use free distribution of still-in-demand classics to generate interest in a form, ebooks, that is still only in the earliest days of its potential public acceptance. Wouldn’t you be more likely to try something new if it was free?