It was announced this week that Thomas Pynchon has finally given permission for all of his books to be sold as eBooks, thus giving a significant shot in the arm to the digital book market with a highly literary and respected author on board. For years Pynchon has resisted the digitization of his books, marking him as a luddite who worshipped at the alter of the paper and ink book. So what made Pynchon change his mind? When his publisher was asked (Pynchon does not give interviews, nor does he allow himself to be photographed) the reason given was that Pynchon desires a wider reading audience.
One cannot blame Pynchon for wanting a larger audience, but I’m not sure he will find that audience in the digital reading public. I cannot envision anyone sitting down to read Gravity’s Rainbow on a digital reader, let alone the 1000+ page Against the Day. Some books do lend themselves to digital readers, but Pynchon’s books are not those. Perhaps a small group of graduate students who wish to travel light will purchase Pynchon eBooks, but I very much doubt that the reclusive author will snag many additional readers. Still, it’s a savvy deal he brokered with Penguin Press through his agent and wife, Melanie Jackson.
Does Thomas Pynchon’s entry into the digital world of books signal the inevitable, that the physical book is endangered? I hardly think so. There is room for digital books to coexist with physical ones. Having said that, Pynchon’s decision to finally allow his books to be sold in digital format it a signal that digital books are not just a passing fad. It’s only a matter of time before eBooks will be sold alongside physical books the way that digital music is sold alongside CDs.
All of Thomas Pynchon’s books can now be purchased in digital format for around $13.00, slightly higher than your average eBook. The higher price may reflect the sheer bulk of Pynchon’s individual books (The much slimmer Crying of Lot 49, for example, is selling for the standard $9.99), but it may also be a way for a publisher to put a price on literature. Either way, one can buy the physical book for about the same price. I do hope that readers unfamiliar with Pynchon’s work will give him a try. Although his books are challenging, they do represent one of the most important living American authors.