Friday, March 14, 2008

Digitising Classics

It’s strange to see the classics now being rebranded with new livery and even re written into today’s prose in the physical book world. A few years ago some publishers were reducing their profile as they were increasingly available for free online and all public domain works. The big question was whether traditional publishers could migrate these works online and make money. Merely replicating the text or even giving them a brush up would be the same as the current hardback paperback repetition and show little value add.

It is therefore refreshing to hear that Penguin US, one of he recognised ‘classic’ publishers have announced the launch of "expanded ebook classics". These will start in May with a version of Jane Austen's ‘Pride and Prejudice’, followed by nine more titles and are all priced the same as their paperback editions, $8.

These will offer added value with features as a reviews from the time of the original publication, a Austen chronology, guides on period dancing and social etiquette, a filmographgy, fashion illustration and guides to Austen sites and information on the decor and architecture of the time. It will be like seeing those outtakes and extras at the end of the DVD. It wioll be interesting to see how much of the extras are public domain and how much is original and whether the publication of a public work demands DRM.

We salute Penguin in this bold and sensible route which should provide readers with a greater insight to the times and background of the times in which the book was written. After all the book content itself is free so actually providing the extras could justify charging any money. Also if you published all Austen’s works the majority of the extra material can be reused. We now hope that the research and it presentation is of the quality associated with a classic work and extended to others.

Finally, one would hope that Penguin will make these available in the UK at the same time. After all they are public domain and there is no reason why not and it would certain help to address the imbalance of digital content available in the UK compared to the US.