Not Publishing in e-book Format

Thomas Pynchon was one of the last great holdouts: the rare writer who had refused to allow his work to be sold in e-book format.

Now he’s changed his mind.

So said the New York Times earlier this year. As rare as it may be coming for an author to disallow the re-print of his earlier published works as e-books a la Pynchon, Bradbury, and Blume (who have all recapitulated), is it rarer still for a book to be newly published and yet not available in electronic format? How viable is it for an author to publish a new work in the year 2012 and not make such work available as an e-book?

We know for a fact that there are still books published in print only. This is even when the books in question are popular, trade books brought out by big-name publishers. The Lifespan of a Fact by John D’Agata and Jim Fingal is one such example. I don’t know what explains D’Agata and Fingal’s book not being available in electronic form, although like the case of Pynchon, I suspect that authors’ intransigence is at play. More than trying to probe the causes for why any particular text is not issued as an e-book, I’m interested in how long until it becomes a completely untenable position to refuse publication in electronic format.

Please note that I’m not wading into the debate pool of whether “print is dead/dying/has an inoperable brain tumor” here. Instead, I’m interested in asking when will the e-book pool be so deep that issuing one’s work in print alone will be the equivalent of leaving such great piles of money on the table that no author or publisher would engage in such career suicide. Will that day ever come? If yes, is it coming soon?

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3 Responses to Not Publishing in e-book Format

  1. A.M.B. says:

    I don’t know if that day is coming soon, but it’s definitely coming. Right now, many older adults don’t own and don’t want to own e-readers, while younger individuals are more likely to embrace ebooks. I’m already at the point where I look for ebooks specifically, and I’m likely to dismiss an author who doesn’t have an ebook option.

    • It’s definitely the case that there are many older adults who don’t want e-readers and never will. (There are such young users too but in smaller number.) However, a public librarian told me something about demographics and e-reader usage that surprised me. She said that a lot of older folks are very receptive to e-readers, much more so than she or her colleagues expected. Her hypothesis for that is that a lot of older adults have poor eyesight, and the ability to size the fonts up and down on e-readers frees these people from the small pool of large print books.

      By the way, I’m impressed with your ability to balance of family with young children and a demanding law career!

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