Regular readers wouldn’t be the only beneficiaries of a well-stocked national digital library system that included contemporary books, not just pubic-domain classics. So would writers, who could better keep up with literature in the here and now. Meanwhile here’s a little perspective from George Gissing, my favorite Gutenberg author of the moment, writing in the somewhat autobiographical novel The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft:
Dozens of my books were purchased with money which ought to have been spent upon what are called the necessaries of life. Many a time I have stood before a stall or a bookseller’s window, torn by a conflict of intellectual desire and bodily need. At the very hour of dinner, when my stomach clamoured for food, I have been stopped by sight of a volume so long coveted and marked at so advantageous a price, that I COULD not let it go; yet to buy it meant pangs of famine.
All of the above is something to consider in the context of the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, which jacked up the cost of literature for writers along with the rest of the world. It may actually have hurt many authors by driving up the expenses of adaptations of books for plays and movies.
Related: The ultimate book on starving writers just may be New Grub Street, also by Gissing.
About that Microsoft-format edition from Amazon: Would you believe, Amazon is charging $2.99 for an electronic version of Ryecroft, a pubic domain book you can get for free at Gutenberg and elsewhere. A big reason why? Because Amazon serves it up in a popular proprietary format. Oh the glories of the format wars. Yet another reason for a Universal Consumer Format. Actually even bookstores would come out ahead since they wouldn’t have to cope with the Tower of eBabel in juggling around inventory. A huge operation like Amazon could especially benefit.