Jacques Mattheij

Technology, Coding and Business

The World That Could Have Been

For a very brief (way too brief) time the world was a much better place. A very large publisher (Springer) probably inadvertently decided to sell all their books online for the low price of $0. Silly me, I actually believed this was some kind of masterstroke of try-before-you-buy marketing, where only after you read the book you would decide whether or not you wanted to own the paper version. I imagined myself reading for the next year or so with complete abandon on all the subjects that interest me, and then ordering those books that I felt would stand the test of time. Given that books now compete with the fountain of content that is the internet and that the quality there is a bit lower but not so low that it is useless one can read to indigestion of the mind if so desired.

And so the announcement that Springer was giving away a very large part of their catalog did not seem all that outrageous to me, how better to compete with ‘free’ than to slash the price to one that can’t be beat.

On Hacker News two threads appeared and people wiser and smarter than me observed that this was probably a mistake. I figured that an entity the size of Springer would surely not expose their catalog like this and that there must be some master plan. Still, the ‘no announcement in sight’ made it a bit more strange but who knows, the Christmas Spirit might have infected some Springer executives with a sudden flash of insight into what would be the best way in which the Springer corporation could positively affect mankind. From there it would have been a short meeting with the relevant minions in order to effect the incredible reach of the company onto the devices of pretty much every earthling with even a passing interest in science and at least one common language with the publications.

The name Springer would overnight be synonymous with ‘Good’, ‘Charitable’, ‘Favorite Company’ and so on.

But there is a small chance it would also be linked to ‘bankrupt’. And that’s why, not all that long after opening up the floodgates for voracious readers the gates were closed again and we were back to $175 for a decades old text book in pdf format.

Oh well, at least for a little while we got to live in the future where information critical for our development would be accessible to everybody with an internet connection, and I’ll definitely buy a copy of the book about Ted Nelson that I downloaded while the gods of copyright were still smiling on us.

Happy 2016 to all of you reading this!