Why is there no eBook of Future Shock?

Alvin Toffler's book "Future Shock" is one of the defining texts of the 20th century. In it, he correctly predicts the insanity of living in the 21st century with its constant bombardment of the shock of the new.

I thoroughly recommend you read it. But there's no official eBook copy. Why?

If you trawl the Dark Web™ (2nd page of Google) you're sure to find hundreds of samizdat copies. Some laboriously typed up by hand, others scanned and OCR'd by machines. All of them filled with imperfections, and none of them making money for the original publishers or the author's estate.

The audiobook seems to be still available. But the dead-tree copy seems relegated to the second-hand shelves.

It looks like the book is being republished next year, but with no sign of an eBook. It is infuriating.

This grumpy post isn't really about Future Shock. There are so many books which are hidden from our knowledge. I know Google used to scan in books, but got clobbered for copyright infringement. But that's not good enough. It's error-prone, lacking semantics, and locked in to one provider.

In the book "The Long Tail" we were promised that the future was "selling less of more". That is, the marginal cost of digital reproduction meant that stores would have infinite supply of an infinite variety of stock. Sure, some things would only sell a copy or two per year. But who cares? The cost of storage, reproduction, and transmission, is negligible.

Sadly, that turns out not to be the case. I'm sure there is a digital version of the book at the publisher - but the format used to create the printed book probably isn't suitable for selling to the public. An ePub copy requires someone to typeset it, validate it, check it on a variety of devices, clear the rights, design a cover, generate an ISBN, load into bookshops - and probably a thousand other things that I can't even imagine.

Non-digital-native files are expensive to convert to digital files. And with uncertain returns, it's no wonder so many critical texts are unlocked only by piracy. This is not a long-term strategy, and is of dubious legality and morality.

We need a better way to free up human knowledge.

3 thoughts on “Why is there no eBook of Future Shock?

  1. Weird stuff happens with movies too for, I assume, contractual/rights reasons. Criterion recently released Hitchcock's Notorious but, before that, there was only a poor quality Chinese bootleg available. Some TV series like Northern Exposure have had most of the music cut.

  2. We are living through what future historians will refer to as “digital Dark Ages”: so much of our culture has moved to impermanent electronic media that cannot be consulted in the physical record, but are also inaccessible to electronic archaeology due to formats, DRM, & so on.

  3. Contractual I think. Certainly when I wrote a dummies book there were different terms and payments for ebooks vs. Paperback.

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