Saturday, July 25, 2009

Vonnegut Goes eBook

Last week Random House announced that its imprint, Delacorte Press, would release 14 previously unpublished short stories by Kurt Vonnegut. Vonnegut who was best known for his satire, humour, anti-war sentiment and science fiction writing, died in 2007.

However its not the posthumous collection that is the news but that they will be made available as ebooks. The first story, “Hello Red,” would be available as an e-book in August followed the next month by a second, “The Petrified Ants.” The remainder will be available on Oct. 20, the day Delacorte publishes “Look at the Birdie,” a new hardcover collection of Vonnegut’s short fiction. Delacorte also has plans to release new additions of fifteen of Vonnegut’s best known books.

The e-books will be sold for $1.99, but is unclear as to whether this signals the return of the short story for the ebook, which makes a lot of sense, or whether in this case they are being used as promotional tasters for the physical book. It is also not clear whether by buying the ebooks the price paid is deducted from the book when its published.

Apparently Mr. Vonnegut is claimed to have told an interviewer in 1995 that he would “welcome” being called a Luddite.

Why can’t the short story stand in its own right as an ebook. We have long argued that the form lends itself to digital reading. Whether, its short stories, selling by chapters or selling individual works such as poems, digital should stand in its own right. Yet it appears some now see ebooks not as works in their own right, but as promotional teasers and that publishers still cling to the physical economic model.

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