Thursday, 7 June 2012
RIP Ray Bradbury
I wrote the blog entry below last December, and feel it deserves to be re-posted. Ray Bradbury was in all probability the first Sci-Fi writer I read. It is with great sadness that I learn of his passing and I believe that his publishers treated him shockingly in his final year of life. Ironically, with his passing, my suggestion below that almost nobody would pay $9.99 for an eBook version of Fahrenheit 451 will be proven wrong, such is the way of the world when someone great passes on.
Ray will be missed, by me for one. RIP.
Fahrenheit 451, an iconic Sci Fi story about a United States that has outlawed books, written by Ray Bradbury in 1953, has been published as an eBook for the first time, pretty much against the author's wishes. The publishers, Simon & Schuster have allegedly told the author's agent to either allow eBook versions of his works or there would be no contract at renewal, and ultimately Mr Bradbury has agreed. The eBook is retailing at $9.99 (£6.35 in the UK).
This raises a number of issues, in my mind. First and foremost, Ray Bradbury is publicly against the eBook concept, in fact, from reading quotes he has made over the last few years, he's a bit anti-technology. That's fine, it's his opinion and I think it should be respected. And let's be honest here, Fahrenheit 451, icon that it is, is unlikely to sell more than a few copies at $9.99 for an electronic copy when there are potentially ten million paper copies in circulation. OK, a large amount will have been recycled years ago, but a quick look at eBay shows that there are dozens of copies for sale right now for much less than the asking price of the eBook version.
What this represents is virtually the blackmailing of an author to include eBooks in the distribution options. I very much doubt that any newly signed author could avoid having to agree to such terms, but Mr Bradbury has been selling books, earning a living for himself and the whole publishing machine, for half a Century. My guess is that Simon & Schuster stand to gain much more than Mr Bradbury out of the deal. First, I doubt if the economies of electronic publishing will be reflected in larger royalties per sale to Mr Bradbury. Second, it could remove the impetus for Simon & Schuster to produce print copies of any of his books now the contract has been signed, unless it's a new book.
This is happening increasingly in cases where the author has passed on but the book is still in copyright - the estate of the deceased author are being railroaded into e-published versions, by all accounts.
Should we be concerned? Well, I personally sympathise with Ray Bradbury - his books are probably his pension and without a deal that's a big issue to him. However I'm not certain that he's going to sell a great deal of books in any format - as I've said, the eBook price is high and the incentive to produce print copies is diminished.
But it's a changing world out there. I firmly believe that in ten years, probably much less, virtually all reading - of books, newspapers, magazines - will be electronic. e-Readers will become faster, more functional and cheaper. Formats will standardise, making economies of scale easier to achieve. I see a world where every schoolchild carries his or her schoolbooks on a school-provided and populated e-Reader, with textbooks procured as ebooks on a licensing deal that sees the owners of the work compensated. No more dog-eared, out of date books covered in wallpaper (do they still do that in schools, or am I showing my age?)
But the cost will be the decline, then disappearance of, bookshops and newsagents. Will we need physical libraries when they could be virtual? I'm sure all people who love reading will miss browsing bookshops, but realistically they will have to go, or at least find a new way to trade. I'm sure the demise of candle shops was lamented when electricity started to take off, but nobody complains about it now. Not even candle makers.
So I truly sympathise with Ray Bradbury, it sounds like he's been treated shockingly. If he wasn't so resistant to the medium he might have done what other mainstream authors have chosen to do and told the publishers to stick their contract where the sun don't shine - and self published on Amazon, Smashwords, Apple, Kobo, Sony.
In the meantime I'm working on a story about a world where eBooks are banned. Does anyone know the auto-ignition temperature (in degrees Celsius, please) of a Kindle?