Neil Gaiman’s ‘American Gods’ Goes Online
Earlier this month, I told you how Neil Gaiman asked readers to choose which of his novels publisher HarperCollins would post online, at no cost to readers. The decision to post a full novel online is part of a larger effort by the publisher to test the waters of online distribution
Gaiman announced American Gods a few weeks ago as the title chosen by fans in a fairly one-sided poll, and offered some thoughts about the selection.
I don’t think I would have put up American Gods as a first choice for free book myself — mostly because a) it’s really long and b) it divides people. As far as I can tell, for every five people who read it, one loves it utterly, two or three like it to varying degrees, and one hates it, cannot see the point to it and needs convincing that it’s a novel at all. (Quite often the last person really likes some of the other books I’ve written, if they ever pick up anything else by me ever again.) But that’s the fun of democracy, and American Gods has won more awards than any other single thing I’ve written.
This week, the novel went online in its entirety, presented within a beta-version "Browse Inside" reader on the HarperCollins website. While the presentation looks manageable at first glance, the trial run isn’t without its share of quirks.
Loading time is significant at the start, and fast readers will probably be discouraged by the delay as each new page is loaded into the reader. The pages are displayed as images of the actual novel’s pages, instead of text documents, and there doesn’t seem to be any way to magnify the images for easier reading. Readers also need to read the entire novel on the HarperCollins site, as there isn’t any downloadable version available.
BoingBoing’s Cory Doctorow had this to say about HarperCollins’ grand experiment which, I believe, sums up my own impressions of both the project and concerns about its future implications:
Unfortunately, the "security" has also undermined the experiment’s value as a tool for getting better intelligence about the market. This isn’t going to cost Neil any sales, but it’s also not going to buy him any. We take our books home and read them in a thousand ways, in whatever posture, room, and conditions we care to. No one chains our books to our desks and shows us a single page at a time. This experiment simulates a situation that’s completely divorced from the reality of reading for pleasure. As an experiment, this will prove nothing about ebooks either way.