An ebook idea


Microsoft Word’s annoying “comment” feature gave me a weird idea–which maybe you’ve already heard about from other people, but I’ll post it here in case it’s the newest thing in newville.

Background: for many years, local Seattle writer David Schmader gave live performances in which he played the schlocktastic movie SHOWGIRLS and delivered a running commentary for a live audience. I never went to one of his performances because a) it would involve going outside and b) it’s SHOWGIRLS, but the shows were so popular that the studio offered to let him do the show as a commentary track on the DVD.

That’s almost tempting.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about ebooks and people’s desire to resell them used. I’m not too keen on that idea, for reasons that I don’t necessarily want to go into, but it occurred to me that there are a lot of books that could stand to have a commentary track.

Would you be interested in an ebook of Lord of the Rings with interspersed comments by Tom Shippey? Would you want to read David Hines’s comments on John Ringo’s Paladin of Shadows books? Jo Walton’s take on… whatever?

The novels could be sold as an annotated edition–slightly more expensive than the original ebook, with payment going to the original publisher (and author) and a small fee going to the annotater. It wouldn’t be a “used” book the way paper books are sold, but it would be a value-added way for ebook readers to resell their content–and readers who were especially insightful (or, to be honest, snarky) could start a nice little side business.

Just an idea.

Edited to add: Actually, I’m not done writing about this. More in a bit.

Edited to add, redux: I meant to talk about this 70-minute slam review of The Phantom Menace, which everyone has been linking to lately. I’d planned to link to it, too, right up to the point that I watched it.

To explain: it’s seventy minutes of breaking down the many ways in which the film failed, and how George Lucas became too big to be “edited,” and how to establish audience sympathy, set up a protagonist, dramatize a dilemma central to the plot, etc. Interesting stuff, and it’s very professionally done.

The downside is that the reviewer decided to do the job in character. The conceit of the critique is that this is a film made by a brain-damaged serial killer–a guy so totally screwed up he’s one step away from a monster, and yet even he understands how badly Lucas blew it. So, between the comments about Qui Gon’s character and the utter muddle of the film’s plot, we get a bunch of goofy comments about women chained in the basement, f-bombs, disembodied voices, and general misogyny. Thanks for making sure I can’t watch this with my kid, filmmaker. So, a lot of useful insight and a lot of distasteful humor.

But this is something I’d expect to see on the annotation market, as I’m going to call it now. Readers as characters–Joe Bob Briggs or Red Mike, dialogs between the reader (as straightman) and an evil alter-ego).

Which would be kinds cool.

I’d envision the market working like this: A year for the book to be on sale. After that time, annotated versions could be sold alongside the un-annotated versions through the same online sellers. Publishers and authors would be able to have annotated versions that were not actual commentary pulled (for instance, a reader who posts their own fiction/fanfiction as annotations to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows would not be legit) but would be able to pull annotations because they were excessively critical.

I guess it would never happen in real life, but I like to think about it.