The Power Broker is not available as an eBook. Where is it?

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Moses in the digital promised land.
Photo-Illustration: Bordered. Photos: Getty Images

The power broker, Robert A. Caro’s second biggest project after the four (and soon to be five) volumes of “The Years of Lyndon Johnson,” is a very big book. Robert Moses’ definitive biography – must read for anyone who cares about cities or politics – is 1,296 pages long, in hard or soft cover. It’s a status symbol on Room Rater, and it requires a significant time commitment. new York astutely advised people to cut up the paperback to avoid lugging around a three-and-a-half-pound book for weeks of reading on the subway. For years readers have been asking for an e-book, mainly for its weightlessness. You can buy Caro’s LBJ books and his excellent dissertation in official digital form, but Robert Moses’s book cannot.

Neither Caro nor Knopf said why, but the best guess is that it’s about money. No one negotiated digital rights in 1974, when The power broker was released, and Caro got a decent deal from Knopf but barely a fortune (after two more very small advances from other houses ran out) at the time. We would certainly not blame the author and his agent, Lynn Nesbit, if they asked for a large sum to amend this old contract; Likewise, it is understandable how Knopf could say “we expect that we will only sell X number of copies each year; we cannot pay too much for it. So: no e-book.

Until yesterday, when my colleague Joe DeLessio sent me a message to say that The power broker had quietly become available for download. I checked the Amazon page, and it was there: buy now in 1 click, for Kindle, $ 7.99. I emailed asking what was going on and got a quick response from Paul Bogaards, Knopf’s longtime publicity manager. “The Caro ebook is the literary equivalent of Bigfoot,” he writes. “A myth! Does not exist, is not coming.” But, I then asked, what is this Amazon button? ”Historically, sites have implemented the availability of this title in eBook form to generate traffic. “It was, he said, an unauthorized phantom listing. Given that I have come across a lot of weird Amazon Pages in the past, it seemed plausible.” Try buying it and see what happens. Your Kindle is going to explode! he said jokingly.

What I tried. And at least for now, every 1,296 pages, from the dedication (“For Ina”, of course, God bless Ina) to that epic last-line howl (“Why weren’t they thankful? ? “), reside on my phone.

Now that’s a little weird. Many eBooks, of course, can be found on the Internet in pirate editions. Someone takes the book once it’s published and breaks its digital rights management cage so that it can be downloaded freely. (The same thing happens for albums and movies.) But it’s a little different, because it’s not through a torrent site but on Amazon, the world’s largest bookseller, and whose e-books exist in the relatively closed environment of the Igniter. If you buy the e-book from a major publisher on Amazon, you get an edition that apparently went through some sort of authorized channel – one that, in this case, Knopf told me, doesn’t exist.

Whatever I have purchased is clearly a real eBook, not an amateur scan of the print edition. It has the good cover, full text, and sometimes awkward typeface that I recognize in many other eBooks I’ve read. This is, however, a slightly glitchy product: the links from the table of contents to some of the chapters don’t work, and the photographs aren’t very good scans of the published pages. There is, for some reason, an image of the yellowed, crumpled hardcover jacket at the end of the eBook, just before the guard cards appear. My colleague Joe also bought the book and noticed that the text seems to have been transferred incorrectly via OCR from the original: some commas were accidentally turned into periods and there are additional paragraph breaks. It also lacks, perhaps revealing, a copyright page.

Where is he from? In the early days of eBook production, most titles were outsourced and sometimes of poor quality, but today they’re usually made by the publishers themselves, in the same copy-flow process that produces printed books. I spoke to a few people in the publishing industry about this curious version, and both postulated that Knopf had, at some point, probably prepared the eBook for future publication. But they were surprised to learn that it had made its way into public view, because the e-book files are so closely kept: “We don’t give e-pub files to the public. anybody,an insider told me, explaining that they are being kept under strict control due to concerns about piracy. This person suggested that, perhaps, a deal had been made, that the e-book was in the works. , that a release date had been set but not announced, and then that a switch was accidentally tripped ahead of schedule. Judging by those typos and flaws, which contrast with Knopf’s usual level of polish , it was not over.

I suspect that shortly after this story is published, the book will disappear from both Amazon and my Kindle app. The nature of digital rights management and Amazon’s proprietary system means that access can be revoked after the fact. (Will I get my $ 7.99 back from Mr. Bezos? Maybe! I have to read the terms of service.) But it’s also true that it’s hard to get a digital product back once it’s gone. available, even briefly. Nine years ago, the cover of a book I wrote was redesigned a few months before it was published, and the first cover, similar to the completed one, but not the same, was briefly published on the Amazon page. This version lingers on some book selling sites to this day, and it pops up all the time on used book sites and eBay when copies are resold, a pervasive ghost in the machine. Once a digital pipeline is laid, it is very difficult to tear it out entirely and start over. As is the case with, say, the Cross Bronx Expressway in Moses.


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