How about an api for books or just a .txt file?

sold out

There’s been a lot of talk about API’s for a couple years now. In terms of technology evolution a lot of breakthroughs have/will come via the sharing of data and how it’s implemented. But what if you’re not an engineer or have that much technology background, you’re going to be sitting on the sidelines. Sadly a lot of people that do know how to play with API’s aren’t really showing anything new and those that could have no idea how to start. That got me thinking about books and magazines. I’ve been noticing a trend to grab stuff on the net and print it out, but the catch is that they’re setting the type with their own preferences of fonts, size, leading etc. Electronic readers are also allowing people to set their own type preferences which if I follow to my own logical end makes me wonder how much longer a designer will be needed to lay out digital books. But that’s not what I’m wanting to talk about here. What I’m wondering about is if a book or issue of a magazine is sold out, how is one able to read the valuable content if they can’t get their hands on it?

I didn’t really have a case study until just recently when I went to my favourite design magazine that has stopped publishing issues. This certain magazine probably influenced me more than anything else design wise—not because of the design (though each issue is now seen as a classic), but because it was written by those outside the established norm of design, they had something to say as opposed to something to push. I went back to check out their site to see what issues they had left. Unfortunately there weren’t that many issues, most were already sold out. That’s when it hit me—if most of the issues are already paid for and sold, why not sell an image free .txt file that people can do anything with. It’s a crazy idea, but why not? The choice is that no one is going to be able to read it vs. some people that never would have had the chance to finally take in some of that info.

Kind of curious, I sent an email to the editor of the magazine asking him about my crazy idea. To his credit he got back to me pretty quickly and mentioned that the topic was quite timely as they’re in the middle of getting a 500+ page best of book together. And to be fair they do have some of the best essays already available on their site. So for now there still seems a market for books that are really designed as opposed to diy which is good. But it’s still an interesting question to consider, if publishers started selling books as .txt files would they be helping or hurting themselves? There’s those that would never had bought the publication to begin with, and those that do start playing with the text are more likely to buy better versions once they realize that diy isn’t always the best experience when it comes to reading.

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  • Mark Turuk

    Though of course the genre isn't for everyone (and I don't read as much sci-fi as I used to either), a publisher called Baen has been making their product available electronically, and DRM free, since about 1999.

    It's an interesting model that has evolved considerably.

    They run a website called where there is also a link to the Free Library, where you can get books for free as well. The point here is that they are mostly first or second books in a series; they try and get you hooked so you buy the sequels.

    Other publishers have started to make some of their works available via webscriptions as well. The price point is usually considerably cheaper than buying the dead-tree equivalent.

    An alternate model that magazines may look at (if they have not already) is; publishing on demand for outdated / back-issue content could work, given they already have the logistics tail in place…