Free the Man Bookers!

I’m currently in Zurich at the GameHotel conference, so I don’t have much time to cover this, but The Times is reporting is talk of making all six shortlisted Man Booker prize novels available online for free. I say ‘talk’ because it’s not entirely clear what’s being discussed between the publishers, the Man Booker Prize and the British Council.

As the Book Standard writes:

A spokesperson for the British Council said: “It is true that the British Council is in negotiations with leading publishers to create an online collection of contemporary British literature including the Man Booker Prize winners in the form of e-books, which can be purchased.”

They acknowledged that central to this “innovative approach” would be making sure that authors are remunerated for their work. A pilot scheme is planned for 2008 aimed at audiences in India, China and Africa.

It’s more about creating an online collection of literature, and bringing British literature to new audiences around the world. They are not, as some people have suggested, ‘doing a Radiohead’ – that is, completely freeing up their novels. Indeed, the publishers themselves seem rather wary of the idea:

Mr Robertson [deputy publishing director of the publisher for Anne Enright] thought that a partial reproduction rather than an entire book was preferable. The news emerged as Enright, a 45-year-old Dubliner, became the 2007 winner of one of literature’s most prestigious awards for her bleak Irish family saga, The Gathering.

Well, of course! She just won the Booker, why make it available completely for free? A significant excerpt – say 50% – would do the job in making the book available to curious readers, and if they read that excerpt and want more, great. It’s the lesser-known authors who would probably benefit more from making their novels available freely – but that’s another story.

Anyway, the bottom line is that the publishing world has not suddenly turned into a bunch of hippies and there almost certainly will not be any Man Booker shortlisted novels online for free. Even if it did happen, the authors would certainly get paid, probably by the British Council.

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