I came across a service called WattPad yesterday on LifeHacker, and I'm a little intrigued. In a nutshell, this is YouTube, except with books instead of video, and cellphones instead of PCs. Users upload the texts of books to the site and other users can download them via the Web or SMS to their phones, all for free.
Part of what intrigues me about this is out-right copyright geekery on my part, so you might not be interested (but if you're in the book biz, you probably ought to be). It appears (and correct me if I'm wrong) that this service is taking advantage of the same part of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) that allows YouTube to host copyrighted material with relative (for the moment) impunity. Nobody is buying any e-book rights here, certainly not WattPad, but this is not a site that will work on fan fiction, public domain content, and Cory Doctorow novels alone. So, enter the "Safe Harbor" section of the DMCA. Essentially, a Web site can host the content, as long as it didn't upload that content, and as long it removes the content promptly at the copyright holder's written request. So, hypothetically, if I saw a Flux book on this service, I could request that the author write to the service to say cease and desist. Not so hypothetically, the copyright holders for Animal Farm, Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, and several other in-copyright novels might want to shoot an email to WattPad. (Actually, the most ironic apparent copyright violation is Ayn Rand.) If they don't, WattPad is free and clear. They can even market the existence of these works on their site (I think).
All right, so, copyright geekery aside, does anyone think they'd actually use this to read a book? I've been trying to imagine a scenario wherein I would be stuck somewhere for a long time where I didn't have and couldn't procure a real book or a viable alternative. I didn't come up with anything other than an unexpected massive traffic jam in some place bereft of public radio. Not likely.
But then again, I don't have a phone with a big screen; I don't do text messaging; and I'm really not interested in using my phone for much more than phoning. So I'm probably not being sufficiently imaginative. There are, obviously, those who think otherwise about their phones. Witness all those Blackberries, Helio phones, and the soon-to-be-released iPhone. And all those large screened Helios and Sidekicks are marketed heavily toward YAs. And then you could throw this in the mix: the Motofone F3. This is the one cell phone I'd actually buy happily (if I could; it's not in the US yet), because it's small, cheap, durable, has long battery life, and, most importantly, it has an e-paper screen that's easy to view outside (apparently) and those last two would make it ideal for actually reading text. I wonder...