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Joseph Heller's classic 'Catch-22' becomes an e-book

As it approaches its 50th anniversary, Heller's million-selling send-up of military bureaucracyfinally assumes its place in the digital library.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The clauses have been cleared, the contract signed. "Catch-22" is an e-book.

The late Joseph Heller's million-selling send-up of war and military bureacracy, one of the notable missing links in the digital library, has been released electronically by Simon & Schuster, the novel's original publisher. As with many books that came out before the Internet, e-rights had been in dispute, with the digital publisher Oped Road Integrated Media announcing in 2009 that it would handle the electronic version.

"Catch-22" first came out in 1961 and Simon & Schuster plans a special 50th anniversary edition in hardcover and paperback next year, featuring an introduction by Christopher Buckley and reprints of essays by Norman Mailer, Anthony Burgess and others.

"We were in regular talks with Joseph Heller's literary agency regarding e-book rights for over a year," Jonathan Karp, publisher of Simon & Schuster's flagship imprint, said Wednesday. "With the 50th anniversary of 'Catch-22' approaching, and with e-books becoming an increasingly significant percentage of overall sales, we both realized the benefits of coming to terms sooner rather than later, and happily we did."

The Heller estate's literary agent, Amanda Urban, declined comment. Open Road spokesman Josh Raffel said that the publisher had received approval last year to announce it would publish the e-edition of "Catch-22" and "dutifully did so. End of story."

"Open Road's catalog consists of hundreds of titles since that first announcement and we are moving on," Raffel said.

Authors and agents have disagreed with traditional publishers over the fair rate for e-royalties. Open Road and other start-ups have offered 50 percent or more, far higher than the 25 percent that had been the standard industry offer. Open Road publishes the digital versions of much of William Styron's work and of such Pat Conroy books as "The Great Santini" and "The Prince of Tides."

But in recent months, agents and publishers say the sides have moved closer.

Over the summer, the Wylie Agency, which represents the estates for "Lolita," "Invisible Man" and many other classics, started an e-publishing arm and announced it would sell the books through Wylie pulled back after Random House Inc., the original publisher of most of the works being offered by Wylie, said it would halt all new business with the agency. The e-editions of "Lolita," "Invisible Man" and other titles represented by Wylie now are published by Random House and available through all major e-book sellers.