November 29, 2011
Ray Bradbury Enters a Brave New World
A certain irony attaches to the fact that Ray Bradbury’s 1953 dystopian classic about book-burning, “Fahrenheit 451,” is now available as an electronic book. Bradbury himself had long vowed that his work would never be issued in the form of e-books, which he characterized as “smell[ing] like burned fuel,” but not even a futurist as famouos and accomplished as Bradbury cannot escape what is happened to the publishing industry nowadays.
“It’s meaningless; it’s not real,” Bradbury said of the Internet in an interview with the New York Times a couple of years ago. “It’s in the air somewhere.”
Indeed, at metatextual level, there’s something eerie about reducing a book that celebrates the civilizing function of the printed page to a bunch of binary digits in a black box. But, after all, “Fahrenheit 451” ends with a memorable scene in which books are preserved through the act of memorizing and reciting their contents, which is just another way of converting a book from one medium to another.
The e-book version of “Fahrenheit 451” was released today by Simon & Schuster with a suggested retail price of $9.99, a price point that is to the ebook what 99 cents is to the music download. For best-selling authors like Bradbury, that’s a much greater threat than digital conversion since it is less than half of the price of a newly-published hardcover.
Now that’s something to fear about the future, at least if you’re a writer who is waiting for the next royalty check.
Jonathan Kirsch, author and publishing attorney, is the book editor of The Jewish Journal. He can be reached at email@example.com.