For quite some time now, there have been these things called books. We’ve made them out of all sorts of plant matter and sometimes we refer to them as scrolls or tomes or whatever. But in the end, they have all been essentially the same thing: dead plants mashed into paper on which we scratched characters to convey information from Brain-A to Brain-B.
Much later, we invented e-readers so that we no longer needed to destroy plants in order to convey information and could avoid the costly movement of heavy dead plants to and fro. Instead, digital files could surge around the Internet and appear magically on e-readers for our enjoyment or education or both.
Here’s the problem: if you’re like me, then you have an e-reader but you also have a few hundred pounds of dead plants lining the walls of your home collecting dust. Even worse, some of the series that you may have been following for years (I’m looking at your George R.R. Martin) have yet to be finished. Does one continue to buy them in print at a higher cost in both money (for hard-cover editions) and resources in order to have the full set or does one get the digital copy and leave the earlier books to sit incomplete and forlorn on a shelf?
Okay, that name is mine. Since I’ve put it here, it’s very unlikely that, should Barnes & Noble ever do this sort of thing, that they’d use it as they’d probably have to give me credit and stuff. Which is a shame because it’s sort of a catchy name. Also, this is not a real program (yet) so don’t go yelling at B&N except, perhaps, to try and get them to make it exist.
This is what I’d like to see happen: I grab up my copies of the first five books of GRRM’s Song of Ice and Fire and head to my local B&N store. I walk up to their nook counter or customer service (or whatever), I hand them my dead plants, they scan the bar code or enter the ISBN (or whatever), swipe my B&N Membership Card, and then the electronic versions of those books magically appear on my device the next time it connects to the internet.
But, here’s where things work out for B&N and not just for me: they get to take those books and do whatever they want with them. At the least, they find a recycler to take those dead plants and help to avoid killing more by giving them new life as some other paper product. They could also be shipped to soldiers, donated to children in need, or given to local libraries.
This idea supports reading, it’s environmental, there could be huge PR benefits for B&N, and it can help millions of people reduce back strain while moving! What’s not to like?
Barnes & Noble is uniquely suited to this sort of program since they have brick-and-mortar stores while Amazon.com doesn’t. Thus, Amazon would have to create shipping labels, incur the cost of that shipment, process the shipment, etc. Plus, since the dead-tree-owner and Amazon aren’t face-to-face, it’s possible that a nefarious (or clueless) owner would send the wrong book!
But clearly, it’s not quite as simple as I make it out to be. A mechanism in the Nook software to allow B&N employees to credit an account for a book that’s turned in might need to be created, for example. Plus, getting the nook versions for free may be naïve; a reduced cost–maybe two or three dollars–is more likely and would help defray costs and pay programmers’ salaries.
Regardless, this whole idea is pretty much a win-win situation for both B&N and readers everywhere. Or, at least for those readers who have a Nook. And, those that don’t neither gain nor lose anything. So they’re winning by not losing! I believe there is only one phrase that can describe this situation: