Full-text Foucaults?

I’ve noticed a trend recently of publishing full-text versions of various Foucault-related books online. Nowadays anyone with a scanner and Acrobat can upload a searchable OCR full-text pdf of say Security, Territory, Population (which floated around the internet last year) or today’s example, Foucault by Gilles Deleuze.

I’m in two minds about these. On the one hand they’re presumably illegal and take away sales (?) from small-press or university publishers (Minnesota in the case of the Deleuze).

On the other they are great for research because they are searchable. So if say you want to find references to a particular topic, a half-remembered quote, or a specific keyword they are very valuable. There is a demand for them. The top-read post on this blog is a link to the (legal) full-text of “What is an author?”

A solution would be for publishers to make these available for sale. Presumably they are afraid of them escaping into the wild. But that argument is in practice being by-passed by these folks providing pdfs of their scanned copies.

5 Responses

  1. there is a delicate balance, isn’t there? In terms of payment. Will there be enough people they pay for a legal download of the book? I think there will be.

    Digital copies sold with actual books is definitely the way forward. The strength of the ‘book’ is its materiality — holding and reading an actual book by natural (ie non-backlight lcd etc) light. Digital copies can’t replicate this. However, the utility of having a single USB drive with a searchable database of one’s personal library would by an excellent move.

  2. I understand the fear, the idea that there is a simple trade-off, free electronic copies of texts will equal less texts sold by academic publishers. This will hurt those publishers, and one assumes the authors and/or translators of those texts.

    One of the interesting things here is that massive amounts of studies have been done on this issue and music. And there often really is a trade-off at the level of buying CDs. On the other hand, most people spend roughly the same amount of their money on music regardless. Sometimes it is still buying CDs, sometimes merchandise, sometimes it is purchasing music in other formants (such as vinyl), and often it is more concert traveling. Regardless, most people spend roughly the same amount on music, and several spend far more. Those that are likely to trade and download music the most are the ones likely to spend the most on music.

    While clearly the same market is not at play here, I think some things are true. I think that first of all the people most likely to spend time trading pdfs are the people most likely to spend money on actual books (I for example have bought basically every piece of Foucault in translation). Also, much like with music, trading pdfs is likely to get people interested into various books and authors they would not otherwise know. I recently bought Schurmann’s Broken Hegemonies because I got it in pdf format a while back.

    And while it is true that some people, like undergrads getting a required text, may not read buy the book, some of the passing along free texts are important. You already mentioned the research reasons, but I got into it by trying to make these academic books accessible to high school students.

    I guess I’m not too worried about it.

  3. Funny that, as you say, the top-read post on this blog is a link to “What is an author?”… Because this, precisely, seems to be about “What is a reader?”!

  4. I tend to prefer bound books, and its one of my biggest personal expenses. however, where i live however, its very difficult to get lots of the stuff i would like to read – especially new works of theory. So unless i order from Amazon, or it order it locally and wait seven weeks for it to arrive (paying twice as much as the book would cost elsewhere), my only way of accessing this stuff are through illegally made pdfs. so, i like the fact that these texts are out there.

  5. Personally, I am ready to empty my wallet till the last coin for a book that interests me. But in my country, it is really hard to get your hands on to any of the works of foucault (or any work of philosophy, for that matter). I don’t have a credit card (or something like that) and a lot of online book stores dont even ship orders to my country.

    Now, what am I, an undergrad student from a small country in south asia, supposed to do?

    Books need to be well circulated in order to be discussed, interrogated and synopsized. This whole “buy-books-to-inspire-the-publication-of-more-books” seems to me a capitalist trait to monopolize knowledge.

    Foucault is long dead, if anybody is making money from his work matters to him only slightly more than it matters to me; trust me on this.

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