For more than a year now, I've been suggesting that Bill Gates buy up rights to The Great Gatsby and put one of his favorite books on the Net--rather than just admiring the collector's copies in the library of his $50-million mansion. Perhaps a sidekick, Nathan Myhrvold, can chip in.
According to the July 20 issue of Fortune, Myhrvold said he probably spends $5,000 a month on the wares of the Amazon.com bookstore. "For instance, I'm going fly-fishing in Mongolia later this summer. I may not buy all the books on Amazon about Mongolia or fly-fishing, but a lot of them. I found a $240, 1,000-page chronicle of all things Mongolian by the Mongolian Academy of Sciences."
Myhrvold is the father of twins, 9, and they never lack for good reads. When his boys wanted to learn about paper airplanes, he bought them 50 books. No, as an incorrigible capitalist, I'm not calling for the confiscation of Gates' wealth or Myhrvold's. Still, isn't it possible that a man splurging $60K a year on books for himself and his family is a little out of touch with the needs of ordinary schoolchildren and typical library users?
It's something to think about when you remember that Myhrvold helped Gates write The Road Ahead--a book that is hardly brimming with helpful ideas for funding e-book for public libraries. Typical suggestion? "Authors may decide to forfeit some or all of the royalties for the 'copies' of their works that are to be used in a library."
So far Nathan Myhrvold's boss has given perhaps .6% of his wealth to libraries; and I suspect that as a philanthropist Myhrvold himself isn't exactly in Carnegie territory. Let's hope that changes.
The big irony is that, as noted elsewhere on this Web site, TeleRead could actually be very good for businesses, including Microsoft. Few corporations have as much a stake in e-forms. Here's a chance for Gates and Myhrvold to do both well and good.
This little essay first appeared on the TeleRead Home Page in August 1998. So far I haven't heard directly from Bill Gates or Nathan Myhrvold, and Microsoft has not endorsed TeleRead. But based on conversations in October at an e-book conference at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, I believe that some key people at Microsoft are keeping open minds about the proposal.--David Rothman, Coordinator, TeleRead, October 23, 1998.