Remember that Mark Twain autobiography, allowed to be published in full only a century after Samuel Clemens’s death? The New York Times reports that it’s turning into a surprise runaway bestseller—the publisher can’t print the books fast enough to keep up with the demand. It originally thought a run of 7,500 copies would be sufficient—after all, who besides scholars would want “a $35, four-pound, 500,000-word doorstopper of a memoir”?—but has printed 275,000 so far and is still not meeting holiday season demand.

“It’s frustrating,” said Rona Brinlee, the owner of the BookMark in Neptune Beach, Fla. “In this age of instant books, why does it take so long to reprint it?”

Oddly, the article does not follow this question up by pointing out that it can be had as an “instant book”—the publisher offers it as an Adobe e-book for $28 and Amazon is selling a Kindle edition for $9.79. And given Amazon’s recently-added ability to send e-books as gifts (at least in the USA), those who want to give the Twain bio (or any other book) to their Kindle-owning friends or relatives are all set. Furthermore, it can be read on-line for free (albeit in a slightly awkward interface).

And yet, consumers are still rushing to buy the bulky, unwieldy print edition. Yes, e-books still have a ways to go yet.


  1. I bought 2 copies — one for myself and one as a gift — and this is a book I would want to keep for years into the future, something no ebook can currently guarantee me with all of the restrictions and DRM schemes that may not exist on tomorrow’s devices.

    It has been my position that the only books (currently; i.e., until a universal, permanent DRM scheme is devised that publishers and device makers guarantee will be still usable 200 years from now) worth considering buying as ebooks are inexpensive throwaway books — read once, throwaway. Anything that one might want to refer to again, even 2 years from now, or would hope that their grandchild will read someday, still needs to be bought in print version.

    Twain’s unexpurgated autobiography fits into this category of future “proofing”.

  2. I just do not agree witjh Adin’s premise- that ebooks are ONLY for throwaway reading and that only by buying print books can you have something more than 2 years out. I love Twain and expect to get the Kindle edition soon.

  3. I agree Richard. My older sister lost 60% of he book collection when she moved house two years ago, due to a mover mixup, so there is no guarantee of anything. Keeping books for years is simply how some people have been brought up, with an emotional attachment. It will pass as the generation passes. I have a collection of eBooks here. I don’t need to worry about keeping them, nor to I care. If I want to read one again in 15 years I will just buy it again. It will be cheap and it is the writing that matters, not the paper, after all. I keep a list of my favourites as I go along and I will use that as a source.

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