Saturday, November 16, 2013

A freely available book about one man's struggle to make wartime penicillin freely available

When I started thinking about this project, ten years ago in 2004, I sensed that any book recounting Henry Dawson's heroic efforts to make wartime penicillin freely available to all humanity would itself have be freely available,to be morally effective.

That is, it would have to be released fully into the PUBLIC DOMAIN, to drift about globally like a spore of penicillium, sprouting up on whatever favourable ground it found.

But I also knew that most book reviewers, ironically particularly if left wing or green-oriented,  distain reviewing newly published book that were both free and in the public domain.

(Prolific book reviewer George Orwell, as always, was the sturdy exception : he loved pamphleteers and tractarians, collected their work and did a massive book about them.)

And my chances for seeing the book's inspiring message spread by way of movie or musical or hard cover book also lessened if it was PD.

The producers of such expensive and lengthy productions need to be assured of an secure window for all their time and effort, via a copyrighted manuscript being exclusively optioned to them.

So I hemmed and hawed, back and forth.

But since 2004 the economics of book publishing and of web movies and musicals have greatly changed --- as have the life expectancies of general book review sections and their employees.

A web book or movie can be done far faster and cheaper and appeal to a potentially globe wide audience than its old school counterpart.

And when an item, like penicillin spore or a book text , is in the Public Domain and available for all to take up, the forces of competition can freely play themselves out.

Wealthy and well connected producers settling in to leisurely and extravagantly throw up an expensive product about a hot topic can find themselves outflanked by poorer but hungrier rivals who quickly and cheaply get their effort to market first.

(As when Pfizer's John and Mae's Smith public domain penicillin resoundingly beat George W Merck's wannabe-patented penicillin to the crucial D-Day beaches market ---- and Pfizer never looked back.)

Book reviewing hasn't really disappeared --- there are more scholar books than ever but also more scholarly journals than ever to review them.

Similarly every new author with their first self published romance novelette still finds reviews on the zillions of tiny and not so tiny romance genre review blogs .

Books like my "All Life is Family" always tend to do better anyway when general reporters talk  them up on the general news pages as newsworthy items in themselves.

In my book's case, a mention can be dropped in as "a new book casts a historical light onto the ongoing debate over Obamacare".

General book reviews sections have shrunk or disappeared altogether because they have become small ghettos in overall newspaper readership -- largely because non-genre "literary" novels , poetry, dramas and short stories have lost most of their intellectual cachet and in fact have been reduced to a high brow genre themselves.

No longer does the well educated citizen feel that if they can't read Don DeLillo 's latest Pulitzer prize winning novel ,that they should at least read a long enough review of it to be able discuss it intelligently at cocktail parties.

If the general book reviewer doesn't need me and this book, the feeling is almost mutual.

So, I have finally pulled the plug on the discussion - I have assigned all my rights in my book to the Public Domain and once that is done, there is no putting the genie back....

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