Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Onward Came the Meteors

So the town of Klagenfurt, Austria, is turning itself into a virtual library.

So the wonks at Slate.com tell us. Graced with smart phones capable of reading QR codes, you may now wander the streets of this Austrian burg and download “a free literary classic via Project Gutenberg or a similar public-domain service.”

The “cool part,” Slate claims, is that you can download books or short stories or what have you that are relevant to the location you’re standing. At the police station, for example, you can download a short story called “The Murderer,” by Austrian Arthur Schnitzler. Plans are in the future to add downloads of audio and visual content at pertinent places throughout the city as well.

A loosely Google-translated website offers more information, including the tantalizing bit that local authors and artists would be allowed/invited to offer their writings, music, and such through the service as well – though all for free, “promotional” purposes, because of course part of the battle here is against draconian copyright laws that get authors paid, uh, I mean, forbid the free spread of modern content to anyone with enough money to buy a smart phone and a trip to Austria to get the stuff, since the project isn’t indexing anything on the Internet, thus not allowing anyone not physically in Austria from getting into the program.

There’s potential. One could imagine a local historical society turning to such technology to help spread local historical information – though schlubs like me who don’t have a smartphone still have to do things the old-fashioned way. But do we really need to be immersed in so much information? I enjoy going to museums, of course, but reach my saturation point after about an hour even without stopping every five seconds to scan a QR code and read what I find. I can’t even read the little information cards the museum provides on the dusty displays.

So, mixed feelings here. Offering new talent a physical distribution method, good. Insisting it be free. Well, kinda good and bad. And offering downloads from Project Gutenberg – a great thing in theory, though their ebook formatting leaves a lot to be desired.

A clever idea? Absolutely. An idea that spreads the fact that thanks to modern technology, distribution of creative matter need not be an expensive thing (unless, of course, you add in the cost of buying and maintaining a smartphone capable of reading QR codes and downloading them). That puts the cost burden of distribution on the consumer, so nothing much has changed there. I can’t say I buy into their whining about copyright, though. Authors deserve to be paid as well so they can afford the smartphones and data plans and such. Maybe 70 years is too long, but as I read their website, they appear to be whining about their struggle to get permission to use a photo that is less than two years old for their website. Really? They wanted it in the public domain that quickly? Ebook prices set at free or at 99 cents is are already eroding the value of content; cutting copyright from a draconian 70 years to a ludicrous two years isn’t going to enhance content value any further.

They dare say content is king.

They were, of course, lying.

No comments: