So, as I’ve said before, my mind is often occupied with how I might develop writing in new ways. For a while I’ve been working on an anti-blog that specifically contravenes all supposed user-interface rules (no comments, no archives, no title), which should hopefully launch soon. I’ve also started a new subject-specific blog that lives hidden within another website, one that isn’t supposed to be for blogging. Sort of like an Easter egg. More about that soon too. Here’s another idea that’s been burning on my mind ever since I bought a Kindle.
E-readers are marvellous things, much more than simply an electronic book. My favourite feature so far with the Kindle is the ability to easily push web content to the device with Klip.me. Rather than read at my home desk or furtively at work, one click in my browser sends the article to my Kindle, where I can read it on the train home, or under a tree in the park. Klip.me cleverly snips the written and photo content from the main div, leaving behind all the unnecessary clutter of ads, links, and comments. No comments! Truly a superior reading experience.
But pushing single articles to Kindle is for wimpy men! What if some clever person had a list of all the best reads from the past week? And it was a really good list? What if another person went to each of those articles, used Klip.me to convert the content into an ebook format, and then compiled all the content into a single ebook file? Why, then you’d have the week’s best science reads, all in one place, to read at your leisure any goddam place you liked. Lo and behold, Ed Yong’s Top Picks in one click:
So, what can we say about this, apart from its marvellous simplicity and ease-of-use? Well this: if the file above doesn’t break some copyright rule, it skates very close to the line. Technically, this isn’t repurposing content to any more extent than RSS tools such as Google Reader or FeedBurner do. But, arguably, if SciencePunk was to become known as “that place where you can pick up all the web’s best reads” and actively discouraged people from visiting the content source, I’d be a bit of a dick at the least, and a cynical repackager of talent and a copyright transgressor at worst.
But hold on to your horses, because I think there is something for everyone here, and it goes a little like this. Currently services such as Flattr and Kachingle are trying to launch the concept of micropayments – that is, very small (~5c) transactions for content that we’ve grown accustomed to getting for free. They argue that there’s enough goodwill out there to make such a system work. People apparently want to reward web writers for their work, and this is the service for it.
I think that’s true, but I also think it’s necessary to provide the architecture in which to carry out the transaction. Imagine if I created a website that looked and felt like Amazon. Imagine if I populated the racks of my online book store not with books, but with .mobi files of blog posts. Imagine if you could see “people who read this also read X”. Imagine if you could choose compilations, curations, best-writing-on-subject-X. And imagine if, when you’d added everything to your basket, I seized you at that choke point between the shop and the download button and encouraged you to pay a small sum to the authors.
Yes, if you didn’t want to pay you could still see this content online. Yes, if you were so inclined, you could use an RSS reader to intentionally rob the author of ad revenue. This is not a system to defeat that, but one that provides a service (reading the best of the web on your e-reader) and used that opportunity to encourage micropayments.
That is itself a new way to blog. Instead of linking to content, offer it for download. Return the love by feeding a trickle of revenue to the original author. The blog as a bookstore.
Personally, I think that web writers should already be offering their content in ebook format. It’s no different from having a “format for print” button. But the existence of Klip.me makes that obsolete, and I think the window of opportunity is rather small. As the boundary between e-readers and tablets melts away, this sort of format will probably be killed off. There’s no excuse for repurposing content and stripping someone of ad revenue if you’re using a device that can access the original source.
But, for those of us who want to read the web on an web-unfriendly device, I think a blog bookstore would be a lovely thing to have.