The Commemorative Library Digitization Symposium edition of Anthony Hope’s “The Indiscretion of the Duchess”

Draft of 2006.03.11 ☛ 2015.04.02 ☛ 2016.07.25

A brief exercise in modern economics.

When the morning’s symposium began, I downloaded the Project Gutenberg edition of Anthony Hope’s adventure novel The Indiscretion of the Duchess. This is a book I bought (that is, a physical original copy I own) a few months ago, scanned on my Plustek scanner, submitted to the Distributed Proofreaders website, and which Barbara and the Distributed Proofreaders team edited into HTML and text editions, and thereafter contributed to the Gutenberg archive.

[Why did I choose that book? Frankly because it’s a simple novel, though an entertaining one, little-known. I could have chosen widely, and just from our own scanned library: we’ve produced a few hundred books in the last couple of years, and own thousands destined for online redistribution. One thing I’ve come to realize is that novels are much easier to manipulate quickly. Dictionaries, textbooks, and bibliographies are a bit trickier. If I’d chosen one of those more complicated volumes, I might’ve spent more than an hour on the following exercise.]

[Maybe two.]

You can view and download the current Project Gutenberg editions of the book here.

When Paul Courant started speaking on the economics of content, scholarship, publishing and copyright, I fired up Apple’s Pages software, and dropped the Gutenberg file directly into it.

Ugly! So I spent about 45 minutes changing the styles to suit my personal tastes. The resulting file is (approximately) an octavo book—like the original was—in a roughly contemporary font I have on hand here on my laptop. I used the scanned drop caps and illustrations and adjusted them somewhat, and made modifications of the flow of the text, the pagination, the margins, a bit of nip and tuck here and there.

I’ve never actually used Apple’s Pages layout software much; I think I wrote a letter in it once. So I had a bit of trouble putting the page numbers on the pages in the way I wanted. I suppose there must be a way; I could spend a few more minutes doing so.

About the time Karl Pohrt (from Shaman Drum bookstore) recommended Charlie Stross’s Accelerando as the “best business book of recent times”, I saved the file as a PDF.


Why would I do such a thing? That is, in the bigger picture, what kind of insane economics would drive some idiot engineer to buy old, dead books nobody cares about, scan them and clutter up the Internets with trashy novels, and then take a half-hour of valuable time to make some PDF version nobody will ever read?

Barbara and I do this all the time, understand.

One answer (from Barbara, reading over my shoulder): Because I can.

Good answer. A very, very good answer.

Another answer—the one I have in mind personally—is one that I know Karl and Charlie Stross already understand. I wonder how many others in the audience here will understand it. Before it trundles up to them one day and knocks them over. Tell me what you think it is.

Your hint: Charlie Stross did write a business book.

For extra bonus irony: When Karl was talking about Print on Demand/Bind on Demand technology, I accidentally sent my edited Hope to the default printer, over in the IOE Building on campus, instead of to a PDF file. That’s the first case of Print By Accident publication I can recall….

So. Here’s my copy of Anthony Hope’s book. I could change it, if I find something wrong with it. Let me know how you’d like it changed.

So could you. I could post it to a wiki somewhere. You could, if you like. We could make a new edition that looks different. We could fix the typography. We could write your kids into it. We could translate it into Mandarin.

Why would we do that? Feel free to tell me. I’d really like to know. Arguably, we will do things along those lines. I did one or two just now.

But at this exact moment, they’re ringing the bell. I’m about to start the second session of this conference, myself. Time for a sip of coffee.

later that afternoon: I spent ten (10) minutes more, and added corrected headers, footers, page numbers, deleted the Project Gutenberg wrappers, enhanced the frontis illustration to replicate its position in the original book, and added three words not found in the original book.

Ten minutes.

And I deleted the old edition, which the link used to point to. And substituted this one.