vonnegut muralToday I went to visit the IUPUI Barnes & Noble, as I had never yet been there. On the way back, I happened to pass near the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library. Vonnegut was a lifelong resident of Indianapolis and a local literary hero, and if you ever pass through Circle City I strongly recommend you drop by and take the tour.

As I was passing, a question struck me, and since I was right there, I stopped in to ask the curator: How did Kurt Vonnegut feel about e-books? Some writers of the same generation—most notably Ray Bradbury, with whom Vonnegut was a long-time friend—were strongly opposed to them, and I wondered if Vonnegut felt the same.

The Vonnegut Library curator, Chris LaFave, didn’t know, but was intrigued by my question. He suspected Vonnegut might have been against them, given that he had certain anti-technological leanings and tended to have similar views to his friend Bradbury. LaFave checked with another local Vonnegut expert, an IUPUI professor, via Facebook. The professor wrote back that if Vonnegut had been opposed to seeing his work released as e-books, he would have stopped it—as he did when he prevented the use of his image in cigarette advertisements.

20160104_125459_HDRThat only left me to wonder: were Vonnegut’s e-books available during his lifetime, or had they been released by his estate after he passed? When I got home, a quick Google found the answer—in a memorial post by David Rothman right here on TeleRead, shortly after Vonnegut died in 2007. David pointed to releases of Vonnegut’s work on ad-supported e-book site Wowio (now defunct). Despite the troubles Wowio would later have with little things like paying its authors, it was a legitimate platform at the time, which would not have posted the works without permission from the rights holder.

So, either Vonnegut granted permission while he was alive, or else he didn’t have the power to stop his publisher from making the deal—and the latter alternative seems unlikely given Vonnegut’s standing. Ray Bradbury was able to prevent his own works from being released as e-books until just a few months before he died. If anybody has any more definite knowledge about Vonnegut’s actual feelings on the matter, please comment below!

20160104_124855_HDR_thumb.jpgWhatever the case, Vonnegut’s books are certainly available as e-books now. They can even be checked out via Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program. One of his unpublished novellas was made available by RosettaBooks via Amazon Singles in 2012, and in 2013 the Kurt Vonnegut Trust granted permission for Kindle Worlds licensed fanfic based on Vonnegut’s works. (I can only imagine how the author himself might have felt about that.)

So, if you haven’t read him yet, or would like to read him again, you can have Vonnegut on your phone, tablet, or e-reader with very little difficulty. As Vonnegut himself would say, “And so it goes.”

 

 

7 COMMENTS

  1. @Chris: One of your best posts ever, thank you! I still have some Vonnegut e-books left over from WOWIO, which, of course, used social DRM rather than the normal obnoxious approach. WOWIO actually let me own the Vonnegut books for real. Books should be a permanent medium, and I truly truly hate it when DRM gums up the works.

  2. Interesting premise. Just a point of clarification. Vonnegut was not a lifelong resident of Indianapolis, as much as we here in Indy would like to claim him. He lived most of his later years in New York City and before that he lived on Cape Cod. He did return to his hometown often and spent a lot of time visiting his friends here.

    • @Nick: Excellent question. I suspect Kurt Vonnegut would approve as long as he felt the narration was good. Vonnegut had a wonderful speaking voice. I wonder if he himself narrated any books. As it happens, at least some of his books are audiobooks at Amazon.