Are Books Printed With Disappearing Ink Really The Best Way To Make People Read Them?

from the bit-of-a-waste dept

As Techdirt has noted, the main threat to artists is not piracy, but obscurity -- the fact that few know they are creating interesting stuff. As passive consumers increasingly become creators themselves, and the competition increases, that's even more of an issue. For writers, there's a double problem: not only do people need to hear about a work, they also have to find the time to explore it once acquired, and that's often a challenge in our over-filled, stressed-out lives -- unless we're talking about haiku. Here's an unusual approach to encouraging people to find that time to read books:

El Libro que No Puede Esperar (The Book That Can't Wait) comes in a sealed package and as soon as you start to turn its pages, the ink begins to age... and fade. Readers have less than two months to tackle the tome before the text toddles off into the ether.
As a video made by the Argentinian publishers explains (embedded below), an anthology of new writing from Latin America was printed using this ink; the hope was that the sense of urgency imparted by the disappearing texts would encourage more people than usual to read the book and discover its authors.

It's a clever idea, but I have a couple of problems with it. One is that this seems like a waste of resources: a book is printed and bound, with all that this implies in terms of energy, but at the end you have only blank pages. Yes, you could write on them, but how many people would do that? Alternatively, you could recycle it, but that uses even more resources to produce basic paper pulp.

I'm also troubled by the pressure the vanishing ink implicitly puts on readers. The idea that you must finishing reading a book within a set time or otherwise you'll have lost the opportunity is hardly conducive to enjoyment. It smacks rather of the classroom, where teachers tell you to finish a book by a certain date, with the justification that the experience will be good for you.

It seems to me that a much better idea would be to give away representative works as ebooks -- with no pressure that they must be read by a certain date. There's minimal waste of resources, since electrons don't cost much to deliver. And best of all, if you really like the book, you can give a copy to your friends in order to share the pleasure (provided there's no stupid DRM to stop you.)

Surely that's the best way of encouraging people to read new authors -- or try out new creations in general: getting those who already enjoy something to pass it on to people they know with the powerful added ingredient of a personal recommendation. No clever tricks involving vanishing ink can compete with something as strong as that.

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  1.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 12th, 2012 @ 3:12am

    In before some stupid troll sees this and claims mike is supporting piracy

     

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  2.  
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    Torg (profile), Jul 12th, 2012 @ 3:13am

    Any author who thinks their story is only good for one reading isn't one worth buying from.

     

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  3.  
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    Bas Grasmayer (profile), Jul 12th, 2012 @ 3:18am

    When I saw the headline, I thought this was going to be some analogy for some new plan for timelocked ebook DRM or something.

    Anyway, I think it's a good idea, but not for most book readers; just for a niche. It's an interesting product for people who struggle to discipline themselves to read more than the first 30-50 pages of a book within a reasonable timeframe.

    So that's what is the key factor in the purchase decision... Not the long-term value of owning it; but the value of it pressuring you to read it, if that's really an issue for you.

    I definitely see a niche market for that... I have two issues with it though:

    - The business issue: it's a niche product. However books, being carriers of content, often fall in their own respective niches. So it will take some research to figure out in what content niches you can find the most 'undisciplined readers' who feel they need more pressure to read books. One likely area would be in mainstream best-sellers, books that everybody is talking about, Fifty Shades of Gray comes to mind, or the Da Vinci Code, etc. The important thing is to get the timing right; it has to happen before the hype blows over.

    - The sustainability issue: it is indeed a waste of resources. Doing the same thing with ebooks would be much more efficient... Of course, you could set up some kind of recycling program, where you get to hand in your blank book, for a discount on a new 'fading book'.

    Overall, I like the idea: it's not for everyone, but I can see this working for a certain niche market.

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 12th, 2012 @ 3:29am

    Re:

    Better idea: when you buy the book a guy comes in and straps a bomb to your kid and the only way to learn how to remove it is to finish the book before the bomb goes off.

     

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  5.  
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    Bas Grasmayer (profile), Jul 12th, 2012 @ 3:34am

    Re: Re:

    No.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 12th, 2012 @ 3:35am

    Libraries...

    'nuff said

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 12th, 2012 @ 3:36am

    It won't make people read them; the best case scenario that these people are hoping for is that people end up having to buy more copies if they wish to reread them. i.e. It's the publisher's wet dream, just like the record labels who want you to pay every time you make a legitimate backup.

     

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  8.  
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    Jeremy Lyman (profile), Jul 12th, 2012 @ 3:50am

    Far fetched, but...

    What if there was a place where you got the book that, after two weeks, you had to return it (or pay a fine) and then someone else would be able to use it for two weeks before returning it? That way we wouldn't waste the resources on blank books that are unusable. I dunno if such a system could be enacted, but it might be pretty cool.

     

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  9.  
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    anon, Jul 12th, 2012 @ 3:53am

    disappearing ink

    Ok good idea to put pressure on people , but how about having ink that reappears after a specific time, say a months after finishing the book so that you get two books in one, or even have the book convert itself into a calendar or a contacts book or something that is usable after the intital story disappears. I think this would at least make the book useful after reading it once.

     

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  10.  
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    Call me Al, Jul 12th, 2012 @ 4:00am

    Re: Far fetched, but...

    No way could this ever work. What a completely ridiculous idea. What planet are you living on?!

     

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    Chuck, Jul 12th, 2012 @ 4:09am

    Re: Far fetched, but...

    Isn't this called a 'Library'?

     

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    Nate, Jul 12th, 2012 @ 4:09am

    GIMMICK

    This is just a painfully wasteful gimmick. If an author's book is good, I have no problems starting and finishing it within the period of a couple months... usually quicker if it is good. No resale, no reuse (other than recycling...) no referencing back, no reading again after a year or two, what a DUMB idea.

     

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    mattarse (profile), Jul 12th, 2012 @ 4:15am

    I think this is actually a good idea - but not as an actual product. I think this was done purely for publicity, and as such it has done an excellent job.
    Would I ever buy a book like this? No.
    Without this book would I have heard of this publisher? Probably not, but now I have.

     

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  14.  
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    Crazy Hong Kong Monkey (profile), Jul 12th, 2012 @ 4:17am

    toilet paper

     

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  15.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 12th, 2012 @ 4:17am

    Re: Re: Far fetched, but...

    That's the joke, you never expllain the joke!

    There's nowhere you can run now

     

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    John Doe, Jul 12th, 2012 @ 4:17am

    I want one of those books

    As soon as the ink disappears, I will write my own version of the story on the pages. Call it fan art.

     

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  17.  
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    Steve, Jul 12th, 2012 @ 4:34am

    ARM

    Analogue Rights Management........ Genius! Getting with the times in reverse. Love it!

     

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  18.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 12th, 2012 @ 4:35am

    World of the dumb.

     

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  19.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 12th, 2012 @ 4:37am

    Re:

    In the land of the mindless the man with half a brain is king

     

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    That One Guy (profile), Jul 12th, 2012 @ 4:44am

    Awesome

    It's like buying an ebook that comes packaged with a virus that corrupts the file 2 months after download, and who wouldn't want that?!

    Seriously though, whoever thought this up needs to have his head examined, or be exposed to actual people, as I can only assume they haven't seen any for a long time.

     

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  21.  
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    ethorad (profile), Jul 12th, 2012 @ 4:49am

    Re: disappearing ink

    or have the ending change, so that on the first read through the butler did it, but then a month later it was the wife

     

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  22.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 12th, 2012 @ 4:50am

    Re: Re: disappearing ink

    The life of the wife is ended by the knife!

     

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  23.  
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    Yogi, Jul 12th, 2012 @ 4:53am

    Re: Re:

    LOL

     

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  24.  
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    Danny (profile), Jul 12th, 2012 @ 4:56am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Yes!

    Made me chuckle anyway.

     

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  25.  
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    drew (profile), Jul 12th, 2012 @ 4:59am

    Re: Awesome

    They don't want to be exposed to people, they just want to be exposed to their money.
    Which begs the immediate question, if I pay for something that disappears in two months, do I get my money back when the ink's gone?

     

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  26.  
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    pj, Jul 12th, 2012 @ 5:02am

    Come on, guys. This isn't a book. It's an art piece. Think of it as a (really, really slow) performance art work. It's drawing attention to the fleeting relevance of most new lit. When exactly WAS the last time one of you read an anthology of new authors more than once or twice (which may be why most of them go into magazines...)? That, and it's clearly a niche marketing ploy for this one book. Sure, it's not a really economical use of paper, and I wouldn't buy it, but judged only by the efficiency of the resources used, how much art should exist at all? If there's a market for it, best of luck to the publishers sating it.

    Let's just say bluntly what everyone's afraid of deep down: that MacMillan, Wiley, Scribners, et al. are going to look at this and go, "WOW! Why didn't WE think of that? Let's print our entire catalogs that way so people have to buy their favorite physical books over and over again...like we make them do for electronic readers!"

    Terrifying, but unlikely to happen. I hope...

     

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  27.  
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    abc gum, Jul 12th, 2012 @ 5:03am

    How does one pay for such a thing - disappearing money?

     

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  28.  
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    TRX, Jul 12th, 2012 @ 5:03am

    wasteful

    Even a best-seller wouldn't use more "energy" than the local paper's sales flyer inserts.

     

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  29.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 12th, 2012 @ 5:29am

    Re:

    Oh hey, let's use up dead trees to make a quickly useless book!
    {Fan club} Oh yea! We can buy the book over and over again if we don't read fast enough!! {Cheers}

    ---

    I'm gonna go have a cup of tea and read one of my 30 year old books.

     

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  30.  
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    Haywood (profile), Jul 12th, 2012 @ 5:42am

    Sounds like a way to push dull reading

    The authors I like write page turners, that cost me sleep & time I didn't intend to give to reading. I often try new authors mainly because I've read everything my favorites have written. If I find myself on week 2 with only a couple of chapters read, I pull my book mark and give it away. In this case I might not even be able to do that, and would end up with an expensive door stop.

     

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  31.  
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    Bas Grasmayer (profile), Jul 12th, 2012 @ 5:45am

    Re:

    Exactly.

    We're used to seeing publishers and the like come up with all kinds of schemes, so people are overreacting quite a bit in the comments here.

     

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  32.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 12th, 2012 @ 6:00am

    Interesting idea, sadly not really for me.

    I even shy away from limited edition collector pieces. If I like something I want to keep it and have a reasonable assurance I can replace it in case of disaster or it just getting worn out.

    But something that kills itself?! Bleeh to that!

     

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  33.  
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    Ben, Jul 12th, 2012 @ 6:02am

    William Gibson...

    ...did something similar in the 80's, with a software "poem" that deleted itself upon reading. Presumably, there's a good reason no one ever heard of it.

     

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  34.  
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    Doug Graves, Jul 12th, 2012 @ 6:09am

    READ THIS COMMENT QUICKLY!!!

    it will self destruct in 5... 4...

     

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  35.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 12th, 2012 @ 6:10am

    I don't know if you've been to Latin America recently, but people don't really have Kindles or Nooks or whatever there, at least not in the numbers we have in the US or EU. The penetration is miniscule. And the numbers get even worse when you factor out Brazil - it has more tablets/e-readers than other Latin countries but they speak Portuguese there, making Spanish-language books a no-go.

    While I agree this disappearing ink stunt is kind of silly and wasteful, "Just hand out e-book versions" isn't particularly helpful if most of your your market doesn't have tablets or e-readers.

     

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  36.  
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    Digitalistically Speaking (profile), Jul 12th, 2012 @ 6:21am

    Re: Far fetched, but...

    Ideas like that will never catch on.

     

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  37.  
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    adamj (profile), Jul 12th, 2012 @ 6:25am

    Uh huh.....

    And the next new innovation?! E-machines that only last 6 months! Oh wait....
    So is this publisher trying to get readers to buy more e-books instead of physical copies? In case they didn't realize it, digitized documents last forever vs. having to go out and buy a product that will only last for 2 months and is probably more expensive than the e version. And while not all countries have tablets or nooks yet, they do have adobe acrobat reader, at the very least.

     

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  38.  
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    Digitalistically Speaking (profile), Jul 12th, 2012 @ 6:26am

    Re: disappearing ink

    What a great idea.Now you see it,now you don't.

    Now you see it,now you don't.

    Now you see it,now you don't.

    Now you see it,now you don't.


    Automatic Peek a Boo for the little ones!

     

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  39.  
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    Digitalistically Speaking (profile), Jul 12th, 2012 @ 6:30am

    Re: Re: Awesome

    Yes

    But you have to spend it right away or it will disappear.

     

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    Digitalistically Speaking (profile), Jul 12th, 2012 @ 6:32am

    Re:

    Isn't all money the disappearing type?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 12th, 2012 @ 6:43am

    OC

    I find it strange that on this of all sites I find myself reading an article saying that one streamlined solution is the only way to go. No experimentation, no deviating from the "best" way.

    To me it's obvious this is not meant to be the one solution for all books, it's a niche, a gimmick that will sell a books to a certain type of audience. For that it's brilliant.

    If you also take the idea and run with it, as some posters above has already suggested, and layer the ink so that you will get different versions depending on when you read it you have a whole new type of product. Or you sell a sortiment of sprays to use on the book that will alter the story in the way you desire.

     

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  42.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 12th, 2012 @ 6:45am

    Re: ARM

    Of course! I mean, you don't buy a book. You acquire a time-limited license to read a book! It's like renting a movie! Er, wait, it's even better! After the time is over you have to return the movie, while you can still keep the book and use it for such wonderful things like wiping your a...

     

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  43.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 12th, 2012 @ 6:49am

    Re: OC

    Why not make the book edible then? Double customer satisfaction: First you read it then you eat it!

     

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  44.  
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    Chuck Norris' Enemy (deceased) (profile), Jul 12th, 2012 @ 6:50am

    Re: Far fetched, but...

    That there is pirate logic!

     

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  45.  
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    Dreddsnik, Jul 12th, 2012 @ 7:05am

    Re: GIMMICK

    " No resale, no reuse (other than recycling...) no referencing back, no reading again "

    Yes, I can see where someone might think this is a good idea.
    Make the analog world behave digitally.

     

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  46.  
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    Chuck Norris' Enemy (deceased) (profile), Jul 12th, 2012 @ 7:06am

    Read it before it is too late

    how many dollars
    on vapor ink did you spend?
    hototogisu

     

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  47.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 12th, 2012 @ 7:09am

    DVD

    This was done before with DVDs as a form of "rental". I never bought one, and I don't see or hear about them anymore... Aside from thinking it was wasteful and stupid, I always worried, if they had to be sealed to keep them from going off, how good the seal was; what's the chance of getting a dud because the shrinkwrap got a hole in it?

    As a stunt, maybe it has some merit (although maybe I just like blank books). As a business model, I think not.

     

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  48.  
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    Andrew D. Todd, Jul 12th, 2012 @ 7:13am

    Trivial Books, Trivial Persons

    That reminds me of something I once found printed on the back cover of a cheap paperback reprint of one of Jack London's books: "The book in your hands is a classic. A classic is a book which has stood the test of time." At a certain level, a book is a time capsule. The thing about the authors of the stories in this "disappearing book" is that they are stipulating in advance that they are trivial persons who write trivial books.

    Insisting on acid-free paper may not be economically practical, but it is at least psychologically healthy-- there is nothing of the suicide gesture about it.

     

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  49.  
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    Wally, Jul 12th, 2012 @ 7:24am

    Children's books and other things

    I can see a future in Childrens' books with heat (breath) activated color ink for a mystery of sorts.

    One would think this is bad now with physical books, but it gets worse. I don't know how many people already know this as it is really old news.. IBM developed a Hard Disk format designed to simulate paper decay over a period of time. Imagine the uproars if they applies that to e-books.

    Now as for the concept. This would be not a very commercially viable idea. Take one look at DiVx players to understand. Also, the cost of paper waste would be phenomenal. It won't happen.

     

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  50.  
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    Seegras (profile), Jul 12th, 2012 @ 7:41am

    Give away electronic books for free

    Yup, how about just giving the books away in electronic form? Like http://www.baen.com/library/books.asp

    (Well, the trick obviously is to give out the first books of a series freely, and then speculate on the people who read it to buy the rest... But it works ;))

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 12th, 2012 @ 7:45am

    Re: Re:

    not a good idea at all, depends on how I feel about my kid at that moment........

     

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    Vog (profile), Jul 12th, 2012 @ 7:51am

    I'd say it's bullshit if it's not contributing to the work. You can't really say Agrippa was a bad idea.

     

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  53.  
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    Bas Grasmayer (profile), Jul 12th, 2012 @ 8:10am

    Re: Sounds like a way to push dull reading

    Then this product is not meant for you.

     

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  54.  
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    Bas Grasmayer (profile), Jul 12th, 2012 @ 8:14am

    Re: Trivial Books, Trivial Persons

    Why does it have to be trivial?

    Maybe it could be used for a spiritual book about the impermanence of things or the art of letting go.

    There are so many cool ways to implement this gimmick.

     

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    NullOp, Jul 12th, 2012 @ 8:28am

    Ink...

    Disappearing ink? Really? Seriously? Clever idea, yes. However, this idea goes against what a book means. Books mark the demarcation between freedom and serfatude. Before books could be easily printed Western man was, essentially, at the mercy of the clergy as far as the continuation of learning was concerned. Only the works approved by "the Church" were copied and saved. When it became easy to reprint books "the Church" lost at least some of it's grip on ideas. Now someone wants to emphasize the importance of books by using disappearing ink. I think it's important to note here there is at least one thing that makes a book better than a digital copy- it can't be easily changed.

     

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  56.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 12th, 2012 @ 8:43am

    Re: Re:

    That's nice, I'm going to Project Gutenberg to read some 100 year old books.

     

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  57.  
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    Michael Kohne, Jul 12th, 2012 @ 8:46am

    It's an art piece, not a book

    Why would you take this as being anything other than a (possibly clever) piece of art? Not everything in the universe that happens to have pages fits into the standard definition of 'book'.

    Doing something different with the existing forms is what Art is all about - challenging perceptions, thinking of new ways to look at stuff. Should every book be written like this? Of course not! But should some artist do it now and then, just to see how it plays out? Darn right they should.

    Also, it's odd enough a thing to do that it will probably get them a bunch of PR, which is no bad thing in this day and age.

     

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    TimK (profile), Jul 12th, 2012 @ 8:49am

    What a good way to limit the number of people that will read your book, hear of you, or buy another book of yours.

    How many people have gotten a book from a friend, read it, enjoyed it, and then bought multiple books from that same author? I'd guess that number is a HUGE number. And disappearing ink, well that will only make that number smaller. So good luck with that. Tell the recording industry we said Hi!

     

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    mlang (profile), Jul 12th, 2012 @ 9:01am

    So in 5 years, when the book is out of print, nobody will own a copy of the authors work. Great way to be remembered.

     

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  60.  
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    New Mexico Mark, Jul 12th, 2012 @ 9:03am

    Re:

    "Let's just say bluntly what everyone's afraid of deep down: that MacMillan, Wiley, Scribners, et al. are going to look at this and go, "WOW! Why didn't WE think of that?"

    Sure... I doubt this could/would ever go mainstream, but gentleman's bet says we'll see something like this tried with in niche markets for financial reasons. University textbooks seem like a likely candidate. Look at the driving factors:

    o $100-200/book
    o Huge pressure to make sure the books are obsolete within a year
    o Extremely limited DRM effectiveness with digital editions

    Stir in a lot of greed, let the idea simmer for a year or two, and I think it's a pretty safe bet *someone* will try it.

    (If so, I also predict a shift in popularity from the computer science students to chemistry students. It shouldn't be too hard to find something that would stop or reverse the reaction.)

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 12th, 2012 @ 10:38am

    Store it in the freezer and get more time.

     

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  62.  
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    Liz (profile), Jul 12th, 2012 @ 10:44am

    Re: Far fetched, but...

    Not really a new idea. Sounds like some kind of Blockbuster Video store.

     

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  63.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Jul 12th, 2012 @ 10:54am

    It's art

    I thought the disappearing ink book was meant to be an art project (in which the disappearing ink is an integral part of the artistic statement) rather than a new business model.

    This sort of ephemeral writing has a nice history to it. i, myself, am part of the work "Skin" by Shelley Jackson, which is written entirely on human skin, with thousands of people each getting one word of the story tattooed on them. If you want to read the work, you have to get us all together and line us up in the right order. As we die, so does the story.

     

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  64.  
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    Al Bert (profile), Jul 12th, 2012 @ 11:07am

    Re:

    That's what i was thinking the whole time. Maybe i'm too cynical, but i wouldn't put it past publishers to make 'perishable' books to eliminate used books. On one hand, the reality of the waste would be massive, but most people could duped on the issue if the book were sold as being "recyclable and reusable" and therefore a green alternative to sustained ownership.

     

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  65.  
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    SeanFromIT (profile), Jul 12th, 2012 @ 11:16am

    e-books are the way to go

    This does sound incredibly wasteful. Authors should just post their DRM-free books to OokaBooka where people could vote their work upward if it's good.

     

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  66.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 12th, 2012 @ 11:30am

    So anyone who punctures the packaging has essentially set off the two-month long fuse for this thing, right?

    Will we have instances of people buying this book just to find page after page blank in the future due to some mishandling in part of the bookstore or the mailman?

    Will people who legitimately buy hardcopies come full-circle and start pirating the .pdf versions to replace their fully-bought hardcopy book?

     

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  67.  
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    slick8086, Jul 12th, 2012 @ 2:23pm

    Worst Idea ever

    This is just dumb. Anyone who buys this is, I have a bridge that I think you'd like.

     

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  68.  
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    Carl, Jul 12th, 2012 @ 2:34pm

    ink

    I buy DVDs for my auto repair business for wiring and info. I also have to buy expensive equipment to test all the new systems that keep coming out of warranty and the cars show up here. Some of the DVDs and equipment will time out after so long and then I have to pay again to use the same stuff I already paid for. So i quess disappearing ink is a way for book makers to make more money on the same book. So next time you may complain about getting your vehicle fixed just remember the shops are payinf for info and equipment.

     

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  69.  
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    Sad Mac (back from a conference is Vegas), Jul 12th, 2012 @ 2:34pm

    Re:

    Just like a glow stick ^_^

     

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  70.  
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    Wally (profile), Jul 12th, 2012 @ 2:44pm

    Re: Re:

    One word can describe that concept, DiVx DVD's, and they failed miserably.

    http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/DivX#section_1

     

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  71.  
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    Robert, Jul 12th, 2012 @ 2:58pm

    Re: Far fetched, but...

    Yeah that's called a library. We have those.

     

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  72.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 12th, 2012 @ 3:31pm

    That's a good idea for green cards, and work visa's, dissapearing ink, then there is no doubt about the expiration date, I think for a book it is just wrong, Then I thought maybe the authour was just looking for $$. Then I wondered is the book was a copyright infringement, what a great way to get rid of the evidence..

     

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  73.  
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    mirradric, Jul 12th, 2012 @ 9:54pm

    Re: Children's books and other things

    Lol. The breath activated ink idea would be wonderful for
    Mister B. Gone.

     

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  74.  
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    Trottingwolf, Jul 12th, 2012 @ 10:19pm

    High sales of novelty items when they first appear t nd to d sap r. .

     

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  75.  
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    Belstain (profile), Jul 12th, 2012 @ 10:21pm

    I'd buy one. It would make a great gift to troll friends with.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  76.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 13th, 2012 @ 6:42am

    Re: Re: Re:

    How quaint. I'm going to the museum to read some 2,000 year old tablets.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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