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Has Anyone Heard of a $35, Disappearing eBook?

I have encountered many mind-boggling examples of ebook pricing insanity in the eight-plus years I have been reporting on ebooks, including Stephen King ending a project because it only generated half a million dollars in revenue and $15 backlist titles from midlist authors, but this latest example truly takes the cake.

Last night a reader left a comment on an old blog post, asking for help in identifying an early (and obscure) ebook project.

My next ebook almost-experience involved two well-known print writers who tried selling an ebook with bizarre conditions. They required that:

  1. Their book could only be installed and read on one computer.
  2. The text would disappear at 6 months on this one computer.
  3. You could only reread the book once and then the sections which had been read twice disappeared.
  4. This book cost $35!

We were still fairly broke when this book came out (and are better off today). It was a no-brainer to decline to buy this overpriced book.

Does anyone remember the name of this book and its authors?

I have never heard of this expiring ebook, nor does it sound similar to any early ebook experiment I know of.

What he describes is certainly possible on a technical level; DRM in a computer program could render the text inaccessible after the second reading, and the one-PC limitation is similar to software licensing restrictions used by some publishers.

But I have never heard of these kind of restrictions being applied to ebooks in this manner.

Can you help us out? Does it sound anything like one of the early ebook projects?

image by Matt From London

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Dan Visel February 6, 2017 um 7:59 am

That’s almost certainly William Gibson’s Agrippa (A Book of the Dead) from 1992:

Nate Hoffelder February 6, 2017 um 8:06 am

Okay, so it wasn’t a commercial ebook so much as it was an art project in digital form. That makes more sense. Thanks!

P.S. And i suppose we shouldn’t be surprised that the work was soon pirated, should we?

Chris Meadows February 6, 2017 um 9:34 am

As I had already suggested. 🙂

Yeah, it was "pirated" right away, but then, I think people coming up with ways to defeat the intentional self-deletion was part of the point of the art project.

Nate Hoffelder February 6, 2017 um 9:35 am

Yes, you did say that; I had overlooked your comment when catching up this morning (I wasn’t ignoring it, honest).

Bob Tudley February 6, 2017 um 11:00 am

I actually got William Gibson to sign a printout of a pirated copy of Agrippa, at a Virtual Light signing. It seems kind of obnoxious now, but in 1993, when the world wide web barely existed and people still took cyberpunk seriously, it seemed like the appropriate thing to do. And apparently a lot of other people had the same idea at the time, as he mentioned in an interview later on that people were bringing copies to sign. (I bought a copy of Virtual Light at the signing, too.)

Chris Meadows February 6, 2017 um 11:38 am

Incidentally, it turns out I wrote a piece looking at Agrippa for TeleRead a few years back, in light of someone else trying a similar idea. (It’s mentioned in a few others there, too, but a Google site-search can turn those up.)

Don DeBon February 6, 2017 um 12:27 pm

I see everyone beat me. I agree it must be Agrippa, at least I never heard of any other book with these particular properties. I read about the project long ago but never purchased a copy. I am very much against DRM in any form, but the project still intrigued me to the point that I really thought about it. However, the idea of a book self-destructing after one read kept me from actually getting it even though it was by William Gibson. I like to keep my books, and often read them more than once. 🙂

FSkornia February 8, 2017 um 10:42 am

James Patterson also had an ebook a couple of years ago where he gave away 1,000 copies with the caveat that it would delete itself in 24 hours.

Will February 11, 2017 um 8:12 pm

I thought, "maybe I can be the first to suggest Gibson!" Alas, not quick enough.

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