Wowio, an LLC based in York, Pennsylvania, recently launched a free downloadable e-book service. The company's collection at launch is pretty sparse, but it does include both public domain and copyright-protected e-books. During my first use of the collection, I downloaded both The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn—if for no other reason than to relish Emmeline Grangerford's mournful Ode to Stephen Dowling Bots—and Slaughterhouse Five.
Although the service is free, in the sense of the absence of cash transfers, there is a price. First, a user needs to register, answering such required questions as birth date, zip code, credit-card number, gender, race (huh?), formal-education attainment, occupation, and salary. You also need to divulge a few of your favorite things, such as food (BBQ for me), music (blues), and hobbies (gardening).
You also must consent to be exposed to some advertisements. During my speedy first use, the only ad I spotted was one for Wowio itself interleaved in the front matter of Slaughterhouse Five. I registered last night, and as of today, I don't see any ads, clearly spawned from my Wowio registration, in my e-mail inbox.
The idea of ads in "real books" is not new. As I recall, many of the paperbacks I purchased in my youth contained ads, usually for other books, but ads nevertheless. The journals and books, with nary a difference, published by the Haworth Press also come to mind as being replete with ads. Wowio's venture, coupled with the high probability that Google's massive digitization project will result in some sort of ad-based "free" service, makes me wonder if advertisements are about to invade the world of books in a big way.
As we move deeper into the digital world, we seem to be bombarded by ads. Human attention is the precious commodity of this age, and advertisers seek every opportunity to make their pitches, even as you look over the shoulder of the pitcher during a televised baseball game.
For some, another price to pay the Wowio piper will be the onerous PDF-file format the company uses. Granted, PDF is not as open and flexible as other file formats for e-books, and there are serious accessibility issues for blind and visually impaired individuals, but it is a serviceable file format.
I have read horribly designed and produced printed books, and I've listened to audiobooks with a dullard or dolt as the narrator, all because I wanted to ingest the content. If content is king, I renew my oath of fealty on a daily basis.
By the way, if you don't remember the ode-to-Stephen episode in Huck Finn, and if you didn't bother to the follow the link above to the poem, poor Stephen died an ignoble death by falling down a well. Mmmmm, that gives me an idea... We could have had some ads plastered on the walls of that well, maybe even in e-ink so we could change them to match the demographics of each subsequent victim, so that poor Stephen would have died with our highly targeted product on his mind.Technorati tags: books, digitizing books, E-Books, ebooks, Google_Book_Search, google book search