Buy the t-shirt, download the novel

17 Nov 2008

Content is going to be a major focus at this week's Mobile Asia Congress. Those of you in attendance may hear the words "revolutionary" and "innovative" bandied about a lot.

Allow me to set a benchmark for such adjectives by directing your attention to this New Scientist post on The Manga Man, a new science-fiction novel from Alexander Besher. The novel is available for free in both online and mobile-phone versions, with the online version packed with multimedia related to the story.

Here's the cute bit: Besher has also teamed up with mobile platform company to print up t-shirts with a QR code. Scan that with the barcode reader on your phone, and you can download the novel onto it - effectively turning merchandise into a viral distribution mechanism.

We've seen versions of this before with things like t-shirts with SMS short codes. I can't swear it's the 'world first in the history of meta-publishing' that Besher claims, and I'm not sure just how many people like a book enough to buy the t-shirt.

Still, it's interesting to see authors think beyond the traditional book-publishing model and even beyond the online-download model. (For the record, Besher's earlier books have been published the traditional way for years.) If NFC-enabled smart posters ever take off, we could see ads promoting new books serving as a point of sale. Tap the poster, get the book.

Is The Manga Man any good‾ I'll let you know after I read it. I recently finished my first mobile-formatted e-book (John Scalzi's Agent To The Stars), which I read on a Nokia Nseries handset via a Mobipocket reader.

Based on the experience, I think mobile devices are still a long, long way from replacing books made of dead trees, but for certain kinds of books that serve as quick reads (short stories, novellas, or anything by Elmore Leonard), mobile novels do have their appeal - especially when they're free. It's a great risk-free way to try an author I haven't read before.

(Note to book publishers: after reading Scalzi's free book, the next time I saw one of his other books, I bought a copy. To review: free online book = subsequent sale of paperback. I'm just saying.)

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