As reported earlier in TeleRead, HarperCollins launched its direct-to-consumer ebook sales platform, co-authored with Accenture, with C.S. Lewis and Narnia as its flagship media properties, in October 2013 in the form of the C.S. Lewis.com and Narnia.com websites. But that brave attempt at an end-run around Amazon and Smashwords has hit one little snag – C.S. Lewis’s works are now out of copyright in Canada and elsewhere, and the Narnia series is now available for free in its entirety from the Project Gutenberg Canada website.
“Find out how fans of C.S. Lewis are celebrating the life of this much-loved author 50 years after his death,” crows the banner on the HarperCollins Narnia.com website. Well, obviously Lewis fans at Project Gutenberg Canada celebrated by digitizing the entire Narnia series and putting it online, in HTML, text format, and very respectable-looking EPUB editions.
HarperCollins was fairly coy about its plans for the Narnia platform and similar initiatives when talking to TeleRead. Partner Accenture wasn’t so circumspect, however, describing this as the first iteration of “an end-to-end e-commerce and direct to consumer distribution solution for HarperCollins Publishers e-books globally.”
I have no idea whether there were any commercial considerations behind the timing of the rollout of the C.S. Lewis-related platforms. Perhaps HarperCollins calculated that it could counter an inevitable dropoff in ebook sales of Narnia books with a strong promotional and branding effort, especially for markets with a longer copyright term than Canada and Australia’s 50 years. This is pure speculation, though.
What is absolutely not speculation but cold hard fact, though, is that Narnia and C.S. Lewis fans now have a totally free option to download every book in the Narnia cycle, from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe of 1950 to 1956’s The Last Battle. Lewis’s very interesting early science fiction novel Out of the Silent Planet is also up on Project Gutenberg Canada already, as are his works of Christian apologetics The Problem of Pain and The Screwtape Letters. Doubtless others will follow soon.
Of course, all this assumes that readers outside Canada will be such shameless and unscrupulous bad-hats as to download these works in defiance of the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act and other high-minded public-spirited intrusions by U.S. media groups into global copyright law like the Trans-Pacific Partnership. “The ebooks on this website are in the Canadian public domain, and are offered to you at no charge. If you live outside Canada, download an ebook only if you are certain that the book is in your country’s public domain,” declares the Project Gutenberg Canada website. But Project Gutenberg Canada also carries a headline against the Trans-Pacific Partnership Trojan horse for U.S. copyright norms, exhorting Canadians to: “send a short and very clear email to your government to say no copyright extensions – The public domain belongs to the people!”
So there’s your choice, people. Free Narnia now.