March 30, 2012

David Foster Wallace’s Pale King paperback to include additional scenes … leaving some fans who bought the hardcover unhappy


As publishers, we here at Melville House are often in the position of trying to figure out how to revive interest in an old book that we think worthy of better attention. With our Hans Fallada titles, for example, we’ve been excited because our HybridBook initiative has given us a way to offer supplemental material digitally that, if we were to include it in the print book, would make for a prohibitive price. Thus, later this spring we’ll be issuing new editions of Every Man Dies Alone and our other Fallada titles with new, additional material related to the real-life history behind the books, the author’s desperate circumstances, correspondence, relevant maps, photos, other artwork and information.

We hope the HybridBook offerings expand interest in the book, but one of our key concerns with this reissue was in not ripping off people who have already bought the books. That is, we didn’t want people who had already bought them and loved them to feel that they had to buy them again, for fear of missing out on genuinely interesting new material.

We solved the problem by making the new material available digitally, and for free, as we do with all the bonus material in the entire HybridBook series — that way, people who’d already bought the book could simply download the new material. This left us feeling that we were accomplishing our goal of spurring new interest in the books, while also honoring the people who’d already bought them.

We were also, it must be admitted, trying to avoid the kind of response to our books that we ourselves had to the announcement from Little, Brown that they were releasing the late David Foster Wallace‘s unfinished The Pale King in a paperback edition that included several new scenes that hadn’t been in last year’s hardcover release. (Gabe Habash, in a Publishers Weekly column, discusses the additional scenes.)

Wallace isn’t exactly in the same league as L.Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology who continued to publish new books for years after his death … but still. Wallace most likely wouldn’t have wanted an unfinished book published at all, let alone in multiple editions that keep including new and different material. And what about the people who already bought the book? How do you explain to them why the paperback edition includes things the more expensive hardcover didn’t? Is this as cynical and greedy as it seems — are the publishers taking advantage of diehard Wallace fans? Or is it their moral obligation to publish every readable scrap of Wallace that they can?

What do you think?


Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.