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Penguin's Missed Ebook Opportunity

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?

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  • http://www.tinyscreenfuls.com/ Josh Bancroft

    *sigh*

    If only Penguin had an author in their stable with some contemporary, interesting, high quality books that were available for free under the Creative Commons license.

    Those would make killer ebooks, and probably sell a few Kindles.

    Too bad. ;-)

  • joe black

    It’s against publishers self interest to encourage use of Kindle, period.

    Clearly, there is a longer term strategy for Amazon to replace publishers in the value chain.

  • http://www.museway.com marco

    Hi jimmy,
    i’m working exactly on this problem and i have found some similar conclusions.
    I’m working on a project which wants create a new way to manage/share/distribute(freely or not)/collaborate on what i use to call the used-to-be-printed contents. (actually I’m busy on looking for the funds to start it).
    I spoke with many people working in the publishing system and the impression I received is that the little publishers are way more interested in such a proposal than the big one, because it could create totally new tools to market their products and to create a whole bunch of new opportunities.
    IMO what lacks is a “world”, a place which were able to sum different aspects.
    1. a place where the basic users, contents users and creators, “meet” the professional ones
    2. a place where creativity is free to express itself and there are tools able to enhance this process
    3. a place able to create a win-win situation for both the kind of users by giving them the chance to obtain the better by the internet medium and the social platform
    4. a place that becomes the leading solution to work with the used-to-be-printed contents

    I believe that such a place could entice also the bigger publishers as penguin, so they will make the jump on the web2.0 and others new “media”.

    More than this, having to speak with many due to my “funding” activities, I have also concluded that the most part of system has not fully understood the potential of such a scenario. So i’m not surprised that big traditional publishers view the ebook only as a menace and not, as it is, a totally new world of opportunities.

    sorry for the long rant, but it is a subject I strongly feel

  • http://brandstreet.co.uk/ candace

    Um, guessing you aren’t a Jane freak, Jimmy. Some fans will love those extras.

  • http://www.snee.com/bobdc.blog Bob DuCharme

    If you want a DRM-free ebook of Pride and Prejudice, see http://www.feedbooks.com/discover/book/52. Feedbooks has tons of great stuff.

  • http://www.questiontechnology.org Kevin

    What extras would you suggest? To say that written articles aren’t interactive enough seems silly — presumably these people are comfortable reading plain old text, given that they just bought a novel.

  • http://www.stapleton-gray.com Ross Stapleton-Gray

    I want every DVD to include a free footnoterphone!

  • http://vaes9.codedgraphic.com/ Eugene

    What a weird coincidence, this blog post and the one on Google Maps Mania on Penguin’s new “ebook” initiative, We Tell Stories, are right next to each other on my feed reader.

    It’s right to question Penguin not maximizing the use of the ebook format, but their We Tell Stories website (http://www.wetellstories.co.uk/) makes use of new media as a medium for storytelling, such as the first story, The 21 Steps, using Google Maps API.

  • http://thedigitalist.net/ James

    I agree with Candace that some readers will find those extras very appealing.

    I think the DVD + extras model is a good option for eBooks, to differentiate them from the print product. Not every eBook needs to ‘push the envelope’ – finding the right mix of traditional models and experimentation is the key, surely.

  • bowerbird

    > 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.”

    alright!

    it’s tough to sell classic literature, i’m sure,
    so it’s a pure stroke of genius to bundle it with
    some recipes — cookbooks _always_ sell well –
    and book-reviews (favorites of heavy readers!),
    and a primer on social etiquette — whoa!, be
    still, my heavily-pounding heart… i remember
    the old days, when we talked about “killer-apps”.
    surely this bundle of goodness has to qualify!

    -bowerbird