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Unglue a Book: Crowdfunding to Liberate Published Works

Over the past few years I have seen some fantastic projects reach their funding goals on the crowdfunding service Kickstarter and create some wonderful films, products, software, and websites. The proposed project picks a sum of money they need to accomplish some aim, promises to produce certain results if they get what they ask for, and doesn’t receive a penny unless their funding goal is met.

What if there was a similar system that let us, the community of readers, buy books out of indentured copyright? Or, from the publishers perspective, what if there was a system that paid you to allow a digital edition of your work enter free into the wild? Let’s say you get a book published, it has a good run and is popular, but is now only making you a very small trickle of income. The book goes out of print, and ebook sales are way down. If you own the rights to the work, and someone offered you a significant one-time payment in exchange for making a single edition of that book available under a Creative Commons license while letting you retain the copyright on the work and the right to continue selling the work alongside the free digital version, what would you do? What if you could set the price that would make it worth doing, as one might do for a project on Kickstarter?

No one really knows yet how the market of publishers and other book right holders would react to this prospect, but the founders of Unglue.it mean to find out. They were mentioned in the New York Times Bits column back in October, but they have just launched their alpha to offer a preview of the new service. Allowing users to add their favorite books to campaign wishlists and rights holders the ability to launch campaigns, Unglue.it functions as a market between book rights holders and devoted readers who are willing to put money towards the aim of “ungluing” their favorite books. I for one am very much looking forward to see how their project progresses. Does anyone else have thoughts on their approach?

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