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Public Domain Backlash at the iTunes App Store

It was inevitable that someone would port Public Domain texts over to iPhone. You can now purchase over 100 Public Domain ebooks (at a cost of $.99 each) for sale in the iTunes App Store. Some enterprising individuals have repurposed a bunch of novels from Gutenberg.org to sell in the online store, including classics such as Dickens and Tarzan. But before you get the idea to jump on the iPhone Public Domain bandwagon, you might want to read some of the customer reviews directed at the company who is selling the Public Domain books. While there are a few people who appear to be glad the classics are now available, there is a growing voice of objection as well. I’m not surprised. One person complained,

“This and all similar blatantly stolen labour needs to be removed right now.”

So the question to ask is, “Is the iPhone the next frontier for selling Public Domain books or not?” At this point, my answer is mixed…yes and no! With the popularity of Kindle and now iPhone Apps, people are going to want access to books, including those in the Public Domain. But to simply re-package text from Gutenberg.org…well, I would tend to agree with the complaint above. It all goes back to what I’ve been saying about the Public Domain all along: It’s proven content to be used as the foundation to create new, hybrid products. So my challenge to anyone wanting to port Public Domain titles over to the iPhone is this: Why not make the classics free and create a line of hard-to-find books to sell on the backend?

There’s another factor that will play into all this as well…PDF access. The moment iPhone gets an app that will read PDF files, it could be game over for the early sellers of Public Domain content at the App Store. Of course, that will also open up new opportunities for publishers as well, especially considering that Amazon’s Kindle doesn’t read PDF’s either.

So, should you rush out to start offering Public Domain content for iPhones? Not yet. Let the new software mature a bit. Mobile devices are here to stay, and so will be the opportunities to create content for them. But at this stage of the game, the early bird may NOT get the worm…just a lot of pissed-off iPhone users.

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