A just ever so slightly surprising headline has appeared in The Bookseller, bible of the UK book trade. “Hemingway’s work goes digital for the first time,” it claims. And for one anxiety-inducing moment, I rushed to Amazon to check if it was true. After all, my old Microsoft Reader copy of A Moveable Feast is so outdated that I can’t even read it any more now that the DRM is messed. Could I have been unwittingly supporting piracy all this while?
No, as it happens, even the UK Kindle Store is stuffed with Kindle works by Ernest Hemingway. The confusion seems to have arisen over what exactly Simon & Schuster, Hemingway’s publisher and administrator of his estate, does plan to do. “Ernest Hemingway’s collected works will be made available in e-book for the first time in a global project by Simon & Schuster,” states The Bookseller. “Twenty-eight titles will feature in The Hemingway Collection, to be published in digital in the UK on 22nd May.”
Since Google never forgets, it’s edifying to look back at what it unearths about similar moves by Simon & Schuster to mine the Hemingway franchise. Dating way back to 2002, we have an S&S press release that reads as follows:
Ernest Hemingway, the most influential and important literary voice of the 20th century, will soon have his entire list of books made available to readers who are eager to enjoy them in the 21st century’s newest format, the electronic book. Beginning in August, and in time for the beginning of the school year, Scribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, will publish its catalog of twenty-three Hemingway titles as eBooks. This represents the first time that the collection of a major literary writer of Hemingway’s stature will be made available electronically.
You can also grasp S&S’s motivation for this repeated flogging of “the most influential and important literary voice of the 20th century” (tough luck, eh, Joyce, Proust, Eliot, etc, etc) in the same release. “The Hemingway collection is the cornerstone of Scribner’s list,” stated Susan Moldow, Executive Vice President and Publisher of Scribner, which first contracted Hemingway circa 1926 for The Sun Also Rises. Can’t accuse S&S of not trying to get top value for its heirlooms.
It does make me wonder just how much familiarity or awareness there is among even well-established UK publishing and book trade bodies about ebooks and digital print. Wasn’t it self-evident to someone at The Bookseller how dumb that headline was? And if it wasn’t, how much do they really know about ebooks? Do they ever browse the Kindle Store’s bookshelves at all?
Oh, and if you believe headlines like that, you’ll believe that I caught a marlin this big …