What if we could all edit and remix other author's novels, and share our edits?
Imagine an ebook supplier did this:
They release user-friendly software that lets you edit the novels you bought, on your computer. It doesn't let you export the edited text, though.
You can, however, upload and share those edits you made.
Anyone who also owns the novel as an ebook can download these edits and switch them on or off as they like. Without the original texts: no use.
Readers can choose to highlight the edits or not, but if the edits are activated it will always say REMIX somewhere in the corner of your ereader. There will be no question that what you are reading is NOT as originally intended by the author.
The original book always stays intact - you can't overwrite it.
Authors can opt out, so their books cannot be edited.
Offensive edits can be flagged up. The author may contractually have secured the right to veto edits they detest. The ebook supplier/publisher may also choose not to host certain edits.
Maybe there is a test-run with out of copyright books. But there's no money in that, so we move on, and start to unlock recent books.
Things that will happen:
People will change grammar, change endings, save characters from death, kill others, make everyone have sex and generally do stuff that the author finds very irksome. Hopefully the author does not plunge into depression. Maybe they are inspired, amused, amazed.
There will be attempts to use the system for censorship: people will add and remove religion, sex, politics. Some parents will demand a feature that locks certain approved versions. Hopefully, children will not be deprived of access to the original versions, though they shouldn't get free access to edits because there will be much tentacle-porn and mindless violence available.
Some unacceptable things will happen. Some troll tries to redeem Humbert Humbert. There will be whitewashing. There will be discussions about where lines are drawn. - Thankfully, whatever happens the originals stay intact and the edits stay visible, and we can disapprove, complain, refuse.
People will change the protagonist's names to their own and change the character description to make them more handsome.
People will change the character descriptions to make them black, white, gay, straight, fat, slim, old, young. Some of this will be vile. Some of this will be interesting.
Some characters will swap gender with no ill effects.
Some will turn into vampires with varying degrees of credibility.
Some characters will suddenly have a clear motivation (especially the vampires).
Someone will politically correct "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest". We will be conflicted, sometimes appalled, sometimes surprised about what we didn't notice.
People will edit in marriage proposals, for a while. The first one will be a brief internet sensation.
Children's classics will be modernised in many ways. We will very quickly learn a lot about what that actually means.
Some trolls will bully people by putting them into novels as victims, sluts, ridiculous characters.
There will be many crossovers, attempted or successful depending on how copyright regulations pan out. There will be zombie edits and Firefly edits of EVERYTHING.
There will be Reader's Digest versions to save you time studying.
Moby Dick will get REALLY short. There will be a competition about how short you can make Moby Dick.
There will be remixes using several novels at once and people will get very annoyed because a remix of three novels costs three times as much.
There will be a number of popular series where someone invented a new protagonist and shoe-horned them into several unconnected existing novels. People will get addicted and demand more.
Users with a very popular set of edits will get employed by publishers.
Some authors will try to throw out really unfinished stuff for others to fix. This will work in some instances.
People will stay interested in the original. They will become more aware of the craft of writing and editing.
There will be an option to just quickly check various edits after you read the original. Book clubs will like that option.
Some readers will buy books that they would NEVER normally read because yes, there is a Transformers edit of Fifty Shades of Grey, and there is a Harry Potter edit in the style of Camus.
Ebook suppliers will hold competitions to make novelty versions that they think will shift more copies. They will also commission the, but never pay enough money, probably.
Then non-fiction books get opened up.
Some awesome stuff will happen.
Much totally stupid chaos will happen.
Ebook sales will soar.
And that last point… is why I think this is ACTUALLY RATHER LIKELY, FOLKS.
Don't you think?