I saw a post on BoingBoing the other day spotlighting Singularity & Co., an online “science fiction bookstore” (who I covered in March for TeleRead) with a goal of rescuing obscure classic SF titles and releasing them on-line. The Kickstarter project that founded it (reaching $52,276 on a $15,000 goal) stated that this would involve clearing the rights for the book and “publish[ing] the title both online and as an e-book, for little or no cost.” The BoingBoing post paraphrased this as “publish[ing] it online as a free ebook.”
This sounds like a great idea, sort of akin to the “Storyteller’s Bowl” model of publishing similar to that used by Unglue.it: ask for a certain amount of money for the content, then when you get it release the content free. There’s just one little problem: the site doesn’t actually seem to work that way—at least so far. Two books have been “rescued” so far, but not only is there no way for people who haven’t paid to subscribe to access them “for little or no cost,” there is no indication that I could find on the site when or if this will actually happen.
Now, I will try to be fair: the posts about the books (first, second) indicate that they’re beta releases, and currently only available to people who paid (via the Kickstarter or the site’s subscription forms) for early access. But there’s no indication in either of those posts when they will be released in non-beta form—or, more importantly, how.
The site’s page about “Our Big Idea” expands a little upon what was said in the Kickstarter: once its subscribers have selected a work, Singularity will “publish that work online and on all the major digital book platforms for little or no cost.” Again, no specific details yet.
The site’s subscriptions page offers three levels of subscription: $2.99 for one year of “access to every book we save,” $129.99 for lifetime e-book access, and $199.99 for one year of print books plus lifetime e-book access. That doesn’t really look to me like making books available “for little or no cost.” Sure, maybe $30 for 12 books isn’t all that much per book, but what if you only want the one book?
I expect they do intend to make the books available to all at some point, but from the point of view of someone with no interest in subscribing but possible interest in buying inexpensively and definite interest in reading free, the lack of any information at all as to when or even if that will really happen makes me feel a little bait-and-switched when I show up there expecting the free e-books they promised.