I buried a link in my last post that probably should be seen more.
Another interesting thing to consider about the Great Books series is that these beautiful covers are simply to doll up a volume. Most of the books in Penguin’s Great Idea Series are public domain, and looking up a public domain text is often as easy as a Google search. As rapper Tyler, the Creator puts it, “That Is What Google Is For.”
This brings up several questions. Why continue selling public domain books? Essentially, at one level, the publisher is convincing people to pay for something that is free, like water. Is the publication of, for instance, Machiavelli’s The Prince like bottled water? Bottled water has been called the “commoditization of a human right,” but there are many examples of where bottled water is more useful than running water–in disaster situations or sporting events, for example. The parallel in books would be in classrooms–not everyone is going to bring a laptop to class or want to print out hundreds of pages of essays for multiple students.
Or these beautifully designed covers could add some additional utility to the work contained within. Utility that looks right on a bookshelf, saying “look at these Great Ideas that I’ve considered.”
But then they become less than what they were intended to be. They become collectables, and we know you can’t collect ideas. Well, you can, but it’s a lot more difficult than going to the local bookstore and plunking down five pounds.
But the true cost of reading will be explored in part 3 of the Books v. Cigarettes review.