Postcapitalist Books — Outline

The Proposition: Houses Publish BOOKS. Writers’ houses publish their texts as e-books, making them available to readers not as commodities but as cultural resources.

  • Writers format their books for e-reading devices, eliminating the cost of printing and distribution.
  • An online central repository acquires and curates a cultural archive of e-books from among those offered by writers and makes them freely available for downloading.

Rationale

E-books no longer function as economic commodities, to be bought and sold one at a time:

  • E-books cost nothing to print, warehouse, ship, or shelve.
  • Efforts to limit supply – e.g., by charging readers a price for each e-copy, by enforcing intellectual property laws against so-called pirates – are artificial barriers to free duplication and distribution.

E-books can become societal resources, made freely available to any and all.

  • In the traditional book industry, agents and publishers and retailers select which books are to be made available to consumers as economically valuable commodities.
  • With e-books decommodified, readers and writers select which books are to be made available to readers as culturally valuable works.

Challenges and Opportunities

Compensating the writers. Free distribution of e-books eliminates writers’ royalties from book sales. However, the percentages and the dollar amounts paid to writers is very small. In transforming e-books into societal resources, alternative means could arise for readers collectively to support writers in a more direct, less costly way than through royalties.

Activating the readers. An elegantly designed object that you pay for, hold in your hands, display on a shelf in your home: how important to readers is the fetish value of a physical book? Instead of being passive consumers of books as commodities, can readers become active disseminators of books as culturally valuable creations?

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