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Publisher's sexy makeover of Anne of Green Gables ignites online outrage

No, Canada's most loveable freckled redhead has not dyed her hair, got a boob job and moved to the Jersey Shore. It just looks that way on, where an enterprising but misguided new publisher has enraged readers with a $13.49 set of L.M. Montgomery's beloved Anne of Green Gables novels adorned with a cover image of a bleached-blond farm girl signalling "come hither" on a haystack.

"Anne has red hair. RED HAIR," complained one online reviewer. "It's a key part of her character and is a strong influence on her words and actions. Secondly, Anne is 10 at the start of the series. What is up with the bedroom eyes?"

"This is nuts, offensive even," wrote another, identifying herself as "once a little red headed girl myself."

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"I love these three books to death," she added, "but I will never buy copies of this edition for anyone. For shame!"

The blond Anne melodrama spotlights an obscure but active niche in the thriving, try-anything world of digitally enabled self-publishing, also known as indie publishing.

Using digital copies of public-domain texts that are available free from many sources – the Montgomery copyrights expired in 1993 – the indie publishers slap on new covers, with images often obtained from cheap stock-photo sources, and offer them for sale through any one of the popular self-publishing services that are now fully integrated into the massive Amazon sales list.

The key to the process is that no books are printed – or real money invested – until an order is received. When and if they appear, orders are fulfilled by third parties using "print-on-demand" technology that can produce instant books one at a time.

The new Anne set was published using Amazon's own CreateSpace self-publishing platform. Neither company responded to inquiries about the new edition. The identity of the publisher is unknown.

Three years ago, CreateSpace signed agreements with both the U.S. Library of Congress and the British Library to make more than 100,000 of their public-domain titles available using the same technology. But entrepreneurs have found a new angle.

Among other sexed-up covers now available online is an edition of Wuthering Heights published by showing two naked lovers in profile on its cover.

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"There's nothing wrong with a makeover, even for literary greats, so long as the finished product is true to the spirit of the work, said lulu spokeswoman Sarah Gilbert. "For most novelists, past or present, the goal has been a wide audience."

For living writers, CreateSpace and its kin offer an easy way to get older books back in print, according to self-publishing expert Doug Heatherly. But the practice of reselling public-demand titles "is mostly drying up now," he said, as sources of free content become more widely available.

This is not the first-time Canada's iconic redhead has been subject to a copyright struggle. The company that produced the Anne of Green Gables films in the 1990s underwent a long struggle with the heirs of Ms. Montgomery, who claimed a "reversionary copyright interest" in all things Anne.

In the end, the heirs and the government of Prince Edward Island incorporated an entity called The Anne of Green Gables Licensing Authority Inc. to manage their claim to the commercial use of the character's image and milieu.

Even so, many of Montgomery's books, including Anne of Green Gables, are available as free downloads from sites such as Project Gutenberg.

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