PARIS - Kevin Kelly is a stimulating iconoclast. How many books are bought but not read? Probably many more than we think. Hence the idea of paying readers who read a book from the beginning to the end. Kevin Kelly thought about patenting his idea, but, since ideas don’t necessarily make a project, he decided to publish it and open-source it. Why? Because as an author, editor and reader, he would love this idea to exist some day soon.
Imagine, he explains, if each reader who buys a $5 book, gets paid $6 if he finishes he book. E-book software can tell us when someone finishes – or not – a book. We already know that at least a third of readers do not read past the 50th page of a book. We could use e-book software (that already track our reading habits – without paying us) to analyze how we read and verify if a buyer has really read a book. If reading habits (reading speed, patterns and progress) show the purchaser is actually reading the book, then the device can initiate a predetermined payment to the purchaser. Kelly’s idea is to propose an amount slightly higher than what the reader paid for his or her book, so that reading a book makes him or her money.
This would encourage book sales while spreading the idea that buying a book costs nothing, because we are reimbursed if we finish it. Since the proportion of people who finish books is much lower than those who buy books, editors will see an increase in sales while making relatively few payouts. Kelly says this is a win-win situation: “If the purchaser buys the book, but does not read it in full, he/she paid the acceptable price, and still owns the book.” The editor only loses a small amount on the sale, which is compensated by the rise in general sales. The payout ratio can be adjusted according to e-book price and genre. “This mechanism requires no new hardware than what exists today,” says Kelly. At best, better material (as a eye tracking technology) would permit to better evaluate if the person has really read the whole book. But it is not indispensable.
Rewarding failure and punishing success
Of course this will not make people read more books. If one day this model is used, people will no doubt find a way to develop bot programs that can simulate reading behavior. But we can imagine ways to fool the robots, such as “captchas,” quizzes, systems to verify that the reader is human. Maybe we need to limit payouts to the price of the book so as there would be less hackers, suggests a commentator.
In a comment, Nick Carr laughs at Kelly writing “What you suggest here would actually pay people to maintain the literary and cultural status quo!?” David Chandler, another commentator is more cautious: “A mechanism that inherently rewards failure, and punishes success, for both the writer and the publisher. That can't be a good thing in the long run, and maybe not even in the short run. … This would provide every impetus for writers to strive to write books that are just interesting enough, but not too interesting, and publishers to seek out writers of middling talent and avoid the really good ones.”
At the same time, if the system were generalized, wouldn’t we go back to the present status quo? Is free or low-cost culture – like the idea of a Spotify for books – enough to stimulate culture?
Innovation in book marketing is often rare. OnlyIndie, which was launched in June 2012, is a refreshing concept. As the French literary website Actualitté wrote “On the site, all books are $0 until the book has been downloaded 15 times. Then its price goes up by a penny each time the book is downloaded until it reaches a limit of $7.98. If the book is not downloaded at all during 24 hours, its price starts to decrease – and after 100 days without a single download, its price is back to $0. The authors get 50% when their book costs between $0.01 and $1.99 and 75% if the price is between $2 and $7.98. They can set their own price limit as long as the price remains below the maximum limit.” Unfortunately, OnlyIndie has since closed down. It is not that easy to make it in the world of global e-sellers.
What is sure is that we will certainly not have to wait for a long time for a publisher or an e-seller to try Kelly’s idea. It might not do better than OnlyIndie, unless it is adopted by one of the e-book giants. The only ones who know whether this idea could work are Amazon, Google and Apple, because they already know what we read and do not read in our books.
Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.
"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.
Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.
But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.
The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."
Criticism of any 'royal project'
The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.
Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.
In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.
Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release
Freedom of speech at stake
"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."
The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.
The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.
Activist in front of democracy monument in Thailand.
Shift to social media
While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.
The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.
Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".
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