And now a cautionary tale: Neil Gaiman — who wrote the incredible Sandman graphic novel series — and his publisher, HarperCollins, has put up his novel, “American Gods” online for free reading from the HarperCollins Web site.
Cool, right? Well not so fast. As Cory over at boingboing points out, the book is only viewable using HarperCollins’ BrowseInside system which loads pictures of the pages from the printed book, one page at a time, with no facility for offline reading.
And this, dear reader, is the cautionary tale. Online content is *great* for access; but it *needs* to be open and usable, not locked up within a proprietary system with poor quality scans.
The whole thing runs incredibly slowly and is unbelievably painful to use. I think we can be pretty sure that no one will read this version instead of buying the printed book — but that’s only because practically no one is going to read this version, period.
The fact is that the full text of American Gods has been online for years, and can be located with a single Google query. I managed to download the entire text of the book in less time than it took me to get the Harper Collins edition to load the first page of Chapter One (literally!). The “security” that Harper Collins has bought with its clunky, kudgey experiment is nonexistent: pirates will just go get the pirate edition.
Unfortunately, the “security” has also undermined the experiment’s value as a tool for getting better intelligence about the market. This isn’t going to cost Neil any sales, but it’s also not going to buy him any. We take our books home and read them in a thousand ways, in whatever posture, room, and conditions we care to. No one chains our books to our desks and shows us a single page at a time. This experiment simulates a situation that’s completely divorced from the reality of reading for pleasure. As an experiment, this will prove nothing about ebooks either way.
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