Fahrenheit 2,451 may well be the temperature at which the glass in your Kindle or Nook eReader is likely to melt. This may give Ray Bradbury mixed feelings.
In one of his masterworks, Fahrenheit 451, Bradbury warned of the displacement and destruction of books by newer means of distribution such as television. Of the novel’s central idea Bradbury says, “It’s about the moronic influence of popular culture through local TV news, the proliferation of giant screens and the bombardment of factoids… We’ve moved in to this period of history that I described in Fahrenheit 50 years ago.”
So, it’s rather a surprise to see his work in full digital form available through an eReader, such as the Kindle or Nook. More over at Wired on Bradbury’s reasoning.
Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 is now officially available as an e-book. Simon & Schuster are publishing both the hardcover and digital editions in the United States for a deal reportedly worth millions of dollars, according to the Associated Press.
Bradbury has been vocal about his dislike for e-books and the internet, calling it “a big distraction.” In order to get him to relent, the publisher had to both pay a premium price and play a little hardball.
Bradbury’s agent Michael Congdon told the AP that renewing the book’s hardcover rights, whether with Simon & Schuster or any other publisher, had to include digital rights as well.
“We explained the situation to [Bradbury] that a new contract wouldn’t be possible without e-book rights,” said Congdon. “He understood and gave us the right to go ahead.”
Unfortunately for hard-core Bradbury fans, according to Simon & Schuster’s press release [PDF], only Fahrenheit 451 is currently being released as an e-book. The deal includes the mass-market rights to The Martian Chronicles and The Illustrated Man, but not their digital rights.
Like the Harry Potter books before them, samizdat digital copies of Bradbury’s books edited by fans have been floating around for years. (I don’t know anyone who’s actually memorized Fahrenheit, like the novel’s “Book People” do with banned books.)
Bradbury is far from the last digital holdout. Another K-12 classic, Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, is only available in print. None of Thomas Pynchon’s novels are available as e-books, although Pynchon has been characteristically quiet on the subject. Nor are any English translations of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and only a few of Marquez’s story collections and none of his classic novels are even available in Spanish. Early editions of James Joyce’s books are in the public domain, but Finnegans Wake, whose rights are tightly controlled by Joyce’s grandson, is not.
Most of the gaps in the digital catalog, however, don’t stem from individual authors or rightsholders holding out like Bradbury. They’re structural; whole presses whose catalogs haven’t been digitized, whose rights aren’t extended to certain countries, or whose contracts didn’t anticipate some of the newer innovations in e-reading, such as book lending, whether from a retailer, another user, or a public library.
In light of Bradbury’s lifelong advocacy for libraries, I asked Simon & Schuster whether Fahrenheit 451 would be made available for digital lending; their representatives did not respond. [Update: Simon & Schuster's Emer Flounders says the publisher plans to make Fahrenheit 451 available as an e-book to libraries in the first half of 2012.]
In a 2009 interview, Bradbury says he rebuffed an offer from Yahoo to publish a book or story on the internet. “You know what I told them? ‘To hell with you. To hell with you and to hell with the Internet.’”