Given the current state of debate about intellectual property, can you imagine modern publishers being willing to sell one copy of a book and then have the owner let an unlimited number of strangers borrow it?
He suspects book publishers would adopt the economic models used by software and entertainment companies, and apply subscription fees. One wonders what sort of PRM (Paper Rights Management) they would try to employ. Perhaps Latin curses on the front page of manuscripts?
Qui furabitur librum istum. non videbit Iesum Christum. Sed ibit in Infernum. ad poenandum in aeternum. cum Turba Diabolorum. per omnia saecula saeculorum.
Whoever steals this book / will not see Jesus Christ / but will go to hell / so that he will be tortured eternally / with a pile of devils / for all eternity
Using more secular methods to do no evil, Google has already thought about this, with an effort to apply precedent from the history of book renting in circulation libraries. It seems publishers weren’t interested.
If you aren’t satisfied with a short Wiki entry on the topic of book renting, try:
- Rassuli and Hollander. Revolving, Not Revolutionary Books: The History of Rental Libraries until 1960. Journal of Macromarketing. 2001; 21: 123-134
And don’t forget to read the full Freakonomics Blog post, If Public Libraries Didn’t Exist, Could You Start One Today?