imageCultural Amnesia—critic Clive James‘ essays on major thinkers, doers and artists of the 20th century—is now available in a special e-book edition without any apparent DRM infestation.

What a great example from a major publisher,  Pan Macmillan in the U.K. Hello, Random House, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins and others? Care to follow through in a major way? Random actually has experimented in the past with unshackled books and more recently offered a full-text preview of Charles’ Bock’s Beautiful Children without any DRM to take away the fun. Similarly TOR Books, an arm of Holzbrinck, the real owner of Pan Macmillian, has endeared itself to readers with DRMless releases of complete SF novels that it hopes will build interest in paper editions and other books.

“With three new essays and an introduction to the extras from the author, the special edition eBook adds new depth to an already absorbing book,” Pan Macmillan says of Cultural Amnesia (link added).

E-formats for Amnesia are Adobe, Microsoft Reader and Mobipocket, and of course you can still buy audio CD and trade-paperback and hardcover editions.

Major kudos to Pan Macmillan’s Pacador imprint and the Australian-born James—also a poet, memoirist, talk show host and travel writer, among other incarnations—who approved the avoidance of DRM in Amnesia. Any loopholes here? I’m going by the promo, which calls the book “DRM free.” From afar, I see nothing hinted to the contrary.

100 essays with subjects as varied as Freud and Louis Armstrong

“A lifetime in the making, Cultural Amnesia is the book Clive James has always wanted to write,” the promo says. “Organized from A through to Z, and containing over 100 essays, it’s the ultimate guide to the twentieth-century, illuminating the careers of many of its greatest thinkers, humanists, musicians, artists and philosophers. From Louis Armstrong to Ludwig Wittgenstein, via Walter Benjamin, Sigmund Freud, Franz Kafka and Marcel Proust, it’s a book for our times — and, indeed, for all time.” See a widget to look through part of the book yourself and hear beautifully read audio.

The A word

I have not read Cultural Amnesia but cannot help but notice use of the word “amnesia” in the title. Isn’t that one of the risks of DRM? As many positives as the Kindle and similar e-book gizmos have, they typically let you “enjoy” best-sellers only in DRM versions. You don’t own books for real. And what if the company or even Washington—through pressure applied on Amazon or the others—cuts you off from your reading? These risks are rather theoretical right now. But there’s no telling what the future will offer, based on the extraordinary political events within the United States, where some nasty chances have happened within the media.

At any moment, content owners can yank items away. Just look at how Publishers Weekly mysteriously deleted the archives for my E-Book Report blog and two others from the open Net. While they weren’t DRMed, the same concept would apply. In the end context owners suffer along with readers—in terms of lost credibility. Writers, moreover, may not be as eager to write for book and magazine companies with potentially vanishing content.

Of possible interest: Amazon listing for the Norton’s paper edition of Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories from History and the Arts (yes, different title), as well as his related collection of essays in Slate—with subjects ranging from Dick Cavett to Jorge Luis Borges.

DRM details—Pan Macmillan on the e-book edition:The Cultural Amnesia special edition eBook comes ‘DRM-free’, that is, without a ‘wrapper’ that locks the eBook to a single reader or device. This is a deliberate choice on the part of both Pan Macmillan and Clive James, which we hope will make this eBook more attractive and even easier to use.” Amen. My thanks!

(Thanks to Nicholas Bennett for the pointer!)


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