Think of a book you absolutely love. Now imagine being able to share a copy of that book with anyone, anywhere, as quickly and easily as you can send an email.
Normally, this just wouldn't be possible. Chances are, your favorite book hasn't even been digitized. And if it has, copyright restrictions or digital rights management technologies likely prevent you from making and disseminating copies of it.
Unglue.it, a new website from Gluejar Inc., aims to unstick books from this material, legal, and technical morass. It combines Kickstarter's crowdfunding mechanics with Creative Commons licenses to produce freely-distributable, electronic versions of books its community wants 'unglued.'
Here's how it works: A copyright holder (an author or publisher) helps determine the cost of releasing a CC-licensed, electronic version of a book. It initiates an Unglue.it campaign, specifying the date by which readers must raise adequate funds. Readers pledge money to this campaign in exchange for copies of the book and various premiums (a credit in the text, for instance, but premiums vary based on amount pledged). If readers meet the goal, then the campaign succeeds and Unglue.it charges all backers for their pledges. An unglued e-book is made available for free. If the campaign fails to attract enough support, then no one loses anything—except, of course, the opportunity to set a great book free.
As Gluejar president Eric Hellman explained last year, the economics of public broadcasting inspired Unglue.it's business model. "You raise money through a pledge drive," he said, "and once you've raised enough money, because you have big fixed cost but zero incremental cost, you can afford to serve everybody."
The Unglue.it community is currently pooling its resources to free five very different texts. At the time of this writing, Oral Literature in Africa—a pathbreaking book on the subject first published in 1970 but currently out of print—has attracted the most support. If its backers can raise $7,500 by June 22, they will have helped fund a brand new edition of the book featuring additional digital materials.
Another campaign—one for Riverwatch by Joseph Nassie—features some juicy premiums. Readers pledging $150 toward the book's ungluing will earn their reading groups a 45-minute chat with the author. Those pledging $500 gain access to a private section of Nassie's website, where they can watch him develop an entire novel (and read drafts as they're completed). Even pricier options will have bibliophiles drooling.
Members of the Unglue.it community can also rally support for new campaigns by creating wishlists of books they'd like to see unglued (Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy has seen strong support, no doubt thanks to recent Towel Day celebrations). When a book has gathered enough momentum, Unglue.it can contact its owner and attempt to negotiate the price of freeing it.
For insight into the Unglue.it team's vision for the project, be sure to watch this video.