Fahrenheit 111000011

Fahrenheit 111000011*

An interesting idea came up recently in this

Amazon thread

expressing concern over the lack of Ray Bradbury books in the Kindle store.

There’s an easy explanation for that, by the way…he doesn’t like them.  Although people think of him as a science fiction writer, I really think of him more as a fantasy writer.  That’s what he’s said about himself, by the way…at least the part about not being a science fiction writer. 

Honestly, his stories don’t present a very positive view of technology overall, and he has a reputation for not being…um…very pro-tech. 

It’s hard to tell how much he might be kidding, but he gave a speech at BookExpo in 2008 in which he reportedly said that

“There is no future for ebooks because they are not books.”
“Ebooks smell like burned fuel…”
http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2008/jun/03/news.amazon

So there!  The book you love isn’t real and it smells funny.  😉

Obviously, e-books themselves have no odor (unlike paperbooks), although EBRs (E-Book Readers) may smell like something. 

My guess is that he’ll change his mind eventually (allowing paperbacks versus hardbacks is not that different from allowing e-books).  If he doesn’t…after a while, the choice won’t be his, the way things are currently arranged.  I’d much rather he profit from his writing now, but that’s his option.

So, I said on the thread, “…I find it ironic. Nothing will preserve and spread literature more effectively than e-books, which would make Fahrenheit 451 pretty different. ”

A later poster suggested that e-books would make it easier to have the “anti-book/intellectual” world depicted in Bradbury’s classic work, Fahrenheit 451.

Quite simply, I don’t get that one. 

If I was a government and I wanted to ban a book (or all books), I’d find it much easier to do with paper than with digital files. 

I am going to start out with one postulate for my fantasy world: digital files are a part of the life of the society, and people are allowed to have devices that make and read them. 

Given that, I think controlling the spread of an e-book would be far more difficult.

The paperbook has the advantage of being able to be read by a high percentage of the population (assuming it is in a language commonly understood and that literacy is widespread).  I hand a paperbook (p-book) to an English reader in Somalia, or Indonesia, or Pakistan, and they need no other equipment to read it.  I’ll give you that one.  🙂

However, the book itself is bulky and hard to transport and hide.

On the other hand, let’s say I hand you an SD card with a thousand books in text files on it.  It’s easy to hide.  It’s easy to destroy, if necessary.  It’s easy to transport. 

Imagine me trying to give you a thousand paperbooks unnoticed!

Now, let’s say you have that file.  My postulate is that you are allowed to make electronic files…that the government hasn’t taken all home computers away.  You can cheaply and easily make many copies of those books…even if you don’t send them out electronically.  Even if you are distributing physical media containing digital files, it’s not that hard.

Imagine trying to make one hundred copies of a p-book somebody smuggled into you!

In Soviet Russia, there was a whole Samizdat culture.  People would secretly copy paperworks and distribute them.  Owning a copier was, I think, illegal, and punishment was severe.  Paper copies did get distributed, but it was complicated and risky.

Digital Samizdat (Samizdat) would, in my opinion, be much harder to stop.  The time, labor, and materials needed are much easier to obtain.  For that reason, the same level of effort put out to stop paper Samizdat would be less effective against digital Samizdat. 

Let’s say that right now, today, your country tries to ban Tom Sawyer.  Do you know how many files there must be of Tom Sawyer?  I think it would be essentially impossible to stop reproduction and distribution.

But what if, say, Amazon was in league with the evil despot?  Unlikely, I would think, but let’s say that’s the case.  Wouldn’t there be a concern that you would have to use their programming to read a book exclusive to the Kindle?  If the despot told Amazon to delete all of the copies of a current books, wouldn’t we be helpless?

Nope.

DRM (Digital Rights Management) can be broken.  The Amazon DRM has reportedly already been broken (and I’m not going to say anything about the specifics…it made the news a while back).  In a situation of repression of literature, I don’t see how it wouldn’t be broken.  What’s harder to find and stop..an industrial-sized printing press, or a laptop?  An SD card, or a hundred reams of paper?

I stand by the idea that e-books are much safer from repression than p-books.

Now, is this an argument not to put books into e-book form because of the risk of piracy?

Not at all!

Piracy happens whether or not you have put the book into e-book form.  There are pirated copies out there right now of books which have never legitimately been made available as e-books.  You can scan them, type them (that was the Samizdat answer, sometimes)…even read them out loud.

The best protection against privacy is to make the book legitimately available as an e-book.  I think that most people, given the choice, would rather get it the legal way than the illegal way.  Let them buy it while they are shopping at Amazon, and most (not all) people will buy it.  If they search Amazon and can’t find it, they may do a web search and find it at an unauthorized source.  They may pirate it without even realizing they are doing anything wrong.

That’s my take on it: making books into e-books makes it harder for the authorities to control their use.

What do you think?  Does the need for software to read a file and hardware to display get trumped by the ease with which paperbooks can be read?  Let me know what you think…

* Bradbury’s novel was called Fahrenheit 451 (having to do with the point at which books burned, basically).  111000011 is 451 in binary numbers, commonly used by digital files.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

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5 Responses to “Fahrenheit 111000011”

  1. Karin Says:

    I am one those people that think Ray Bradbury is a great Fantasy writer. I would buy everyone of his books, if it were available in e-book format. It is obvious that the e-reader has caught on, or there would not be so much competition. I think Bradbury is losing out in attracting many more people to his books (of course, I think all publishers and authors are foolish for not allowing digital books, for they are losing sales for not offering it).

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Karin!

      I agree…shocker, huh? 🙂

      One of the key things is that there is a clock ticking, because copyright it not permanent. Under the current systm, all books will be in e-book form eventually, because they will fall into the public domain when the wishes of the former rightsholders have no effect on whether and how the works are published. A rightsholder can’t say, “My books will not be e-books.” What they can say is, “I choose not to be paid for e-books.” That’s a principled stand, and as such, is admirable. I choose not to be paid for promoting books from companies that block text-to-speech, but I can’t free the access.

      The other thing is that the books are available (illegally) as e-books now. Again, you can’t stop that. You can stop the existence of authorized versions, but not unauthorized ones. My feeling is that the best way to reduce unauthorized versions is to allow authorized ones.

      So, the practical choices seem to be:

      1. Not authorize e-book versions. Unauthorized versions with no quality control will circulate now, with no money going to the publisher or author/author’s estate. Eventually, the book will fall into the public domain, and e-book versions will be made available. Again, no money is likely to go to the author/author’s estate, and quality control will be erratic (some publishers may put out mainstream but uncompensated versions, such as we see with Shakespeare’s works now)

      2. Authorize e-book versions. In that case, the author/author’s estate will benefit. Pirated circulation will likely reduce. There will likely be quality control: since there is more at stake for the publisher, there is more motivation to make a better produced version

      However, Bradbury’s (and those of many other fantasy and science fiction writers) fictional worlds have often included people with a minority position opposing those with the majority and/or authority view. Fighting e-books is fighting the heavy readers, in my opinion. While people who read more than fifty books a year are in the minority, I think that e-book use among that group is high and getting higher. You can stand and fight that wave of progress, like Samuel T. Cogley defending Kirk in the original Star Trek, and there is honor in that. However, it’s also worth noting a quotation attributed to Damon Runyon: “The race is not always to the swift not the battle to the strong…but that’s the way to bet.”

      😉

  2. Edward Boyhan Says:

    The pedant in me has come to the fore. I agree that 451 decimal is 111000011 binary, but that is not the way it would be encoded in a kindle or PC. I’m too lazy to go look up the ASCII codes for 4, 5, and 1, But on early computers it would’ve been encoded in binary coded decimal BCD as 010001010001 (0100[4], 0101[5], 0001[1]).

    Back in the day an oft told humorous suggestion as to how we might win the cold war, involved parachuting several thousand copiers into Moscow :).

    I do think that the eBook business might benefit some from a bit of piracy. We need a goad to get the various stakeholders to come up with a better, more fair (to all stakeholders — not just publishers) way to protect intellectual property than the DMCA. Also a little rampant piracy might get publishers move away from agency pricing and come up with something more innovative — like the demand-based pricing you discussed in a prior post.

    An eye on recent history in the music publishing business might be helpful here. Maybe if us staid old readers behaved a bit more like unruly teenagers, we’d get somewhere :).

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Edward!

      Okay, you out-geeked me on the number. 🙂

      We have book piracy now, but the stakes have been low enough in e-books that it hasn’t been much of a prod. That’s changing…the more valuable the market becomes, the more a drain on that market matters. Let’s say piracy represents one percent of e-book sales…one percent of half a percent (which is about where e-books were of the publishing market when the Kindle was introduced, I believe) doesn’t matter much. One percent of twelve percent is different.

      Of course, the percentage that piracy represents of e-book sales may have dropped dramatically. Before the Kindle, I would guess that a lot of the e-books that were read were unintentionally (and some intentionally) pirated. I would guess that most of the new people in the e-book market are getting legitimate copies.

  3. 1984 is sold out in hardback & paperback at Amazon…but Kindleers can read it for free | I Love My Kindle Says:

    […] Fahrenheit 111000011 […]

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