How much would you pay to free your favorite book?

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A pile of books in different colors

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., 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 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 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'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 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 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, can contact its owner and attempt to negotiate the price of freeing it.

For insight into the team's vision for the project, be sure to watch this video.

Bryan Behrenshausen
Bryan formerly managed the Open Organization section of, which features stories about the ways open values and principles are changing how we think about organizational culture and design. He's worked on since 2011. Find him online as semioticrobotic.


This is a wonderful initiative, and I've been wanting to see something like this for old abandonware video games for years now.

I'm disappointed that they chose an <em>No-Derivatives</em> license by default, though. They've got the right idea, but without giving people the freedom to remix and adapt the work, I don't think it goes far enough.

Luckily, rights-holders are given the option to choose different licenses. I wonder how many will actually go for a <em>Share-Alike</em> license.

I agree. Ungluing a book should make translations possible. However, as you note, rights holders can choose different (more permissive) licenses, so let's hope they do.

The thing we're doing is sufficiently experimental, from an author & publisher perspective, to be a little bit scary. We hope that as awareness of CC licensing and alternative models grows, people will be willing to try a wider variety of licenses -- indeed we allow them to use any CC license, and our most successful campaign ( is offered under CC BY. But to begin with, we need to assuage those fears enough that authors and publishers will be willing to try offering content this way.

I come from the library world, where there's a huge problem with publishers who are not willing to sell ebooks to libraries at all, or who change the access terms capriciously. And we've seen publishers suing universities over trying to use e-resources in their courses. So from a library & education perspective, any CC license, including BY-NC-ND, is a dramatic improvement.

That said, we've gotten feedback that some ungluers, like you, strongly prefer the free-est licenses. And I don't think it's a coincidence that our strongest campaign is offered under CC BY. If we can show authors and publishers hard data that campaigns with more free licenses are more successful, that will make them more willing to try it.

Andromeda (the librarian at

Fair enough, you seem to know what you're doing. I like it. As for the question, maybe 20 dollars the first time. The second time probably less.

Thanks for sharing your insight, Andromeda. And congratulations--I just noticed that the first campaign has succeeded!

Thank you! Open Book will be releasing a CC BY edition to the world within 90 days :) Enjoy it!

You raise a great point, and I can see that my comment was rather myopic. I should know first-hand from my interactions with folks in creative communities like deviantArt the difficulties in teaching people about open licensing... and then trying to convince them that giving up traditional copyright in favor of CC is supposed to somehow be a Good Thing!

Thanks for sharing your anecdote on the librarian-publisher dynamic - I've never considered it from that angle, and now you've inspired me to do some more research on the topic!

I agree too, although I think translation is only a small subset of remixing.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.