A budget for Babel TIM CARMODY · MAY 04 2011
Last night I started thinking about e-books, partly because I was frustrated that I wanted to buy some books that aren't available for Kindle. (If you're curious, the two I was pining over were John Ashbery's new translation of Rimbaud's Illuminations and Eugene Jolas's Critical Writings: 1924-1951.)
Truth be told, I probably would have talked myself out of the purchases anyways, because I haven't had any spare money for my drug of choice (books) in a while. But I was bothered because I couldn't buy them. I wanted them, and if I had enough money, I wanted them all. And if I could have them all, I'd find a way to get enough money.
So I took to Twitter with this idea, with the following results.
So, so far, we've got a few different possible models (assuming everything could be worked out on the back end with author consumption, etc., which is a pretty gigantic assumption):
- Every book that's ever been made digital or easily could be made digital (I'll come back to this second point later);
- The same thing for movies and TVs. Which might be an even bigger, more popular idea;
- A curated digital book club/book channel, a la Netflix, that offers you enough popular and backlist material to keep you busy;
- What else?
Very likely, in the near future, I won't "own" any music, or books, or movies. Instead I will have immediate access to all music, all books, all movies using an always-on service, via a subscription fee or tax. I won't buy - as in make a decision to own -- any individual music or books because I can simply request to see or hear them on demand from the stream of ALL. I may pay for them in bulk but I won't own them. The request to enjoy a work is thus separated from the more complicated choice of whether I want to "own" it. I can consume a movie, music or book without having to decide or follow up on ownership.
For many people this type of instant universal access is better than owning. No responsibility of care, backing up, sorting, cataloging, cleaning, or storage. As they gain in public accessibility, books, music and movies are headed to become social goods even though they might not be paid by taxes. It's not hard to imagine most other intangible goods becoming social goods as well. Games, education, and health info are also headed in that direction.
And Mark Sample noted that really, you already can get almost any book, movie, TV show, etc., if you're willing to put in a little work and don't mind circumventing the law.
Here's a thought: How would this change the way we read? If I haven't laid down money for a particular book, would I feel less obligated to stick it through to the end? I'd probably do a lot more dipping and diving. I'd be quicker to say, "this isn't doing it for me -- what else is on?"
And remember, a lot of the books -- cookbooks, textbooks, reference material -- would be geared for browsing, not reading straight through. We might actually find ourselves plunking down extra money for a digital app with a better UI.
Ditto, imagine the enhanced prestige of rare books that were off this universal grid, or whose three-dimensionality couldn't be reduced (without difficulty, if at all) to an e-book.
Still, I think whatever I pay for cable, internet, my cellphone's data plan, newspaper and magazine subscriptions, Dropbox backups, etc. -- I'd pay way more for the Library of Babel.
What do you think? What would you need to make this work for you?
(Comments enabled. I'll shut 'em down at the end of the week. Be nice.)