Business Musings: Hidden Treasures

What a fascinating few weeks I’ve had. At the end of May, I hit most of my major writing deadlines. I’m turning my attention to short stories and to a massive project I’m doing for Baen Books, under the unwieldy title Tough Mothers, Great Dames, and Warrior Princesses: Classic Stories By Women in Science Fiction. (Yes, I’m considering another title, but still haven’t come up with it.)

In connection with that book, I posted here and I’ve started a website called Women in Science Fiction, mostly so I have a place for suggestions from you sf fans, and also so that I have a record of the various stories I like that probably won’t fit into the book.

The suggestions have been marvelous. Thank you, everyone, for the ideas, the thoughts, the authors I might have missed. Please, keep the suggestions coming.

I’m amazed at how many writers I’d heard of, but not read. I’m also amazed at how quickly names have gotten lost. I actually found many of the suggestions shocking—not because I disagree or anything, but because I hadn’t realized these writers had become writers who needed to be rediscovered.

For example, a number of people told me about Ursula K. Le Guin, because they hadn’t heard of her until lately. Or Octavia Butler, whom many don’t know. And then, the Andre Norton discussion I had on this site with Jeffro Johnson on Norton’s obscurity to an entire generation. (Thanks, Jeffro!) Here’s the link. It’s in the comments. He mentioned how his generation never read Andre Norton, and that comment hurt my heart.

Andre Norton is as essential to my youthful reading experience as Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan books and Agatha Christie’s mysteries. Maybe more essential. I spent my twelfth and thirteenth summers in a hammock in our yard, reading books with rocket ships on the spines from our local library. The only writer’s name I remember from that period is Andre Norton. I read everything, and when a librarian told me Andre was a woman, I had serious cognitive dissonance. In those days, I read a lot of women’s fiction (mostly Gothic romances) and Andre Norton wasn’t writing what other women were writing. She was writing adventure. Space stuff. Scary stuff. And writing about men.

I mention the Tarzan books and Agatha Christie because Burroughs, Christie, and Norton are the first writers I binged on, and I remember those binges clearly.

You mention Christie these days and everyone has heard of her work, even if they haven’t read it. You mention Burroughs, and everyone has heard of Tarzan, and some even know about John Carter of Mars. You mention Robert Heinlein to science fiction fans, and they know who he is as well.

Heinlein, Burroughs, and Christie have been continually in print for generations. But Andre Norton hasn’t. Some of her work left print during her lifetime. Some of the problems occurred after her death, because of estate issues. (There are always estate issues. I need to continue my estate series, I know. I know. Buried in projects here, but will do so when I can.) Here’s the best link I could find to the estate problem. The links inside the article don’t all work, but the piece does lay out the problem and the eventual solution. 

But part of the reason that Andre Norton’s work has faded into obscurity for younger generations is precisely what Jeffro Johnson mentioned. He wrote,

There is a generation gap. In the seventies, fantasy readers would have typically read stuff from a half dozen decades without giving it a thought…Something happened with regard to publishing, libraries, book clubs, and book stores in the eighties to cause a shift….

He guessed about what the shift was, blaming the usual suspects, video games, blockbuster movies, but those—frankly—were 1970s phenomena, and while prevalent in the 1980s, didn’t stop people from reading the old stuff.

He’s right about the shift. It did start in the 1980s, and as I said in my comment back to him, I knew about it.

I just hadn’t thought about it in terms of what we read and what’s available to us before.

So here, in the smallest nutshell I can manage, is what happened. I’m dealing with the US only because that’s what I’m familiar with. But as I’ve been Googling today to double-check my facts, I realize that some of what I mentioned here (particularly the part about libraries), occurred in other Western nations as well.

First, the rise of a certain type of chain bookstore occurred in the 1980s. Bookstore chains have existed almost as long as bookstores. It’s pretty normal for a successful retailer to open another store once the first store does well. Until the 1980s, bookstore chains were regional. You’d hear a New Yorker say that he’d be going to Brentano’s, not that he was going to a bookstore. Or someone from Michigan would go to Borders. These were independent booksellers, who owned more than one store.

Eventually, the stores became successful and the chains expanded. According to Wikipedia, Waldenbooks had a store in every state in 1981, and most of those stores were in the place where Americans did much of their shopping—malls.

The early chain bookstores in malls were small. These stores had a tiny footprint and big rent. They had to “churn” books, meaning that every month—or in some cases—every ten days, the entire content of the store would change. Books were being stripped and tossed out if they didn’t sell in less than two weeks. The bestsellers would remain in the stores. Everything else would change.

At this point, though, independent booksellers still grew and expanded. The chains had no real impact on independents because the chains weren’t in their neighborhood. Very few independent bookstores opened in shopping malls again, because of the high rents. Bookstores tended to locate in older parts of a city where the rents were low.

Readers shopped in bookstores, but readers also bought books in other places—drugstores, grocery stores, truck stops—you name the retailer, and it probably carried a few books. Books really were everywhere.

I miss those days more than I can say. I realized just a few days ago that my reward for grocery shopping (which I hate with a fiery passion) was to buy myself a book—or at least to scan the bookstore racks at the grocery store, looking for a book to buy. I can’t do that any more.

In addition to the prevalence of books to buy, libraries had vast collections. Once I binged on the library’s Andre Norton collection, I read every science fiction book in my local Carnegie library, then moved on to other authors. Their entire oeuvre would be in that library. For example, I read everything Paul Gallico wrote. I just went to a website to see his work, to see if I remembered correctly that he had written The Poseidon Adventure (he had), and I’m pretty sure that was my entry novel. Although it might have been The Snow Goose, which I loved. The Snow Goose was initially published in the 1940s. I read it in the 1970s, in the library edition.

In fact, on that website, I got lost in memories. Not all of Gallico’s books worked for me, but most of them did. And I don’t think I missed a one in my Gallico binge. I can even remember where those books were on the shelf, what that corner of the library smelled like, and how the light filtered in from the pebbled windows on a snowy afternoon.

I worked in that library one summer, shelving books. I went to the morning coffee meetings, where the librarians talked about the limited space they had and how the occasionally had to cull books. Most of the books culled were ones that hadn’t been checked out in years and had to be removed with great sorrow. The library had a rotating rack of paperbacks, and those stayed until they fell apart.

Library book sales used donation books, if the books were sold at all.

Inflation hit in the late 1970s, eroding the amount that a dollar could purchase. Then extreme budget cuts in the early 1980s targeted funding for libraries (among other non-defense programs).

In her dissertation, Keeping the Faith: The Public Library’s Commitment to Adult Education: 1950-2006, (available on ProQuest), Brenda Weeks Coleman looks at the effect of library funding on libraries. On P. 278, she writes,

Although federal funds did not represent a large portion of the total income for libraries, the recommended cuts had an averse effect on the adequacy of library services for two important reasons. First, state matching dollars were often paired with federal dollars; cuts in federal dollars meant a corresponding cut in state dollars for public libraries. Second, state and local funding problems, especially lower property tax revenues, compounded the library funding problem.

Less money for libraries meant a shift in the way that libraries handled their collections. Libraries needed patrons to show up and then support organizations like Friends of the Library, so libraries cut back on book orders and increased periodicals they carried. Interlibrary loan became important. As long as the book was somewhere in the system, then someone could order it and wait and wait and wait.

As you can tell, this had an impact on the little shelf-scourers, like me. I couldn’t randomly discover a writer and then easily read her work. The library, the place I always thought of as a repository of knowledge, became more about the churn as well, mostly in self-defense. The books didn’t stay on the shelves for five to ten years. By the end of the 1980s, if a book hadn’t been checked out in two years, it went to the library book sales department or got pulped. (Writing that hurts. It really does.)

So by the end of the 1980s, as Jeffro Johnson noted, books went out of print. There was also a tax ruling that got misconstrued as the main cause of the loss of the backlist in the 1990s, but that ruling only had an impact for a few years. The ruling changed the way that warehoused items were counted on taxes. It’s too complicated to go into here, but suffice to say it wasn’t cost effective for publishers to sit on books in warehouses during that period, so stocking books at a publisher’s expense (to replenish when the supply in the market diminished) ceased.

Midlist books got published, but older titles? Important titles? The first books in a series or books by authors no longer producing new work? Those books were the first to leave the inventory.

Publishers stopped reprinting them, but kept them as company assets unless the writer or the writer’s estate asked for a reversion of rights.

The changes in the way that books reached readers continued in the late 1980s and into the 1990s. The rise of the superstore bookstore chain started then, with Barnes & Noble leading the way. These huge bookstores needed “wallpaper,” books that would sit on those far walls, almost as decoration. The bookshelves in the middle of the stores held the newer material. The older stuff went back on the walls.

But the older stuff wasn’t really old; it was mostly in-print backlist. Writers who had gone out of print a few years earlier and who didn’t advocate for a return to print or who had gotten lost in the public consciousness didn’t get reprinted.

The large chain bookstores pursued predatory business behavior against independent stores. Just like the movie You’ve Got Mail depicted, bookstore chains moved into a neighborhood with one or more established independent booksellers, offered more selection and lower prices, and drove the independents out. And as portrayed in the movie, that was both a good and bad thing. Book prices came down, more people read, but that personalized, regional service often went out the window.

The superstore chains were good for writers with established careers because the superstore chains, unlike the chains before them or the smaller independents, carried an entire series, and often the writer’s entire backlist. Writers could walk into a Barnes & Noble and find their own books that had been published two years ago, still stocked.

But other changes were happening in this period. Libraries still suffered budget cuts, and those were growing. Libraries got closed all across the country, generally due to lack of funding.

Used bookstores often filled the space left by the independents, but that was a problem too for readers. Because publishers still took books out of print too fast. So if a book had a print run of 20,000 copies, the book probably had returns of 5,000 to 10,000 copies. (In those days, it took two books printed to sell one, with the returns.) Let’s say 10,000 books actually sold. Of those 10,000 copies, 5,000 stayed in the hands of readers.

The remaining 5,000 books went into the wild. Some got destroyed, but most went to used bookstores all over the country. I couldn’t quickly find how many used bookstores there are in the country now, let alone twenty years ago. So let’s just (for the sake of math) assume there were 10,000 used bookstores. That meant one out of every two bookstores did not have a copy of that particular book.

And as the 5,000 books sold out of the used bookstores, assume the keeper rate remained the same. Half the readers kept the book. That meant that eventually there were 2,500 books in the wild (one in four bookstores had it) and then 1,250 and then and then…

You see the problem right? This was how some books became highly collectible. The availability of the book was always based on the print run, and if the book never went back to press, then the number of books in the wild was really really small.

That lead to many readers hearing about books but never being able to find them. For years and years, going to a used bookstore was like treasure hunting. Maybe this store will have that book I’ve been searching for. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

Really rare books could often go for hundreds of dollars or more.

Then the real death knell hit.

Those other stores—those not-bookstores that carried books? The grocery stores, truck stops, drug stores, restaurants? They all got their books from a little local distributor down the street.

Literally down the street for me and Dean. We lived in the country, and the only people near us for about a mile were the owners of the book distributor for Lane County, Oregon. They rented a warehouse in Eugene, and they trucked books all over the county. Those folks knew that truck stops sold more romances and Louis L’Amour than the snobby bookstores near the University of Oregon. They knew that chain bookstores sold more bestsellers and the local grocery stores sold books on calorie counts. They knew every little detail about an area, and they knew who bought what kind of book.

Algorithms before Amazon, just kept in a distributor’s head (and on their rudimentary computer).

Grocery stores also chained up during these two decades. Instead of the regional large stores or the mom-and-pop stores on the corner, large grocery chains dominated. These chains funneled their invoices to corporate, and corporate hated the regional book distributors. The product was the same—books—but the invoices came from thousands of different distributors, sometimes with invoices as small as a few hundred bucks.

So giant grocery chains (my memory says Walmart and Safeway, but my memory might be wrong and I can’t find this quickly) decided they would deal with ten distributors each. Nationwide. They let the existing distributors compete for the business, and each company chose a different group of ten. (Eventually, those twenty distributors whittled down to four.)

Most of these regional book distributors didn’t have the ability to provide books at that scale. (It required a major cash outlay.) Some didn’t even try. Others tried and failed. Many of the regional companies bought other regionals just to handle the demand. But by the deadline, the grocery chains had picked ten distributors and just did business with them.

The result was twofold. Most of the regional distributors who didn’t work with the chains went out of business, including our former neighbors. Some of the distributors got bought up, but those employees (if they stayed) were busy trying to provide books to a much larger market. The initial twenty distributors who survived didn’t have time to learn that book buyers in Raleigh preferred historical novels over science fiction novels or who the local authors were in New Orleans. So all the surviving distributors did was order bestsellers and pray that those books would sell while the distributors learned how to do business on this grand scale.

The distributors learned within a year, but the damage was done. The publishers were repeatedly told that only bestsellers could get into the pipeline, so publishers only bought guaranteed bestsellers. The whole idea of growing a bestseller from a midlist book went out the window. If the books didn’t perform significantly better with each release, then the authors were jettisoned.

And backlist? Gone, at least from these distributors. The big chain bookstores started ordering directly from the publishers, setting up their own distribution arms. Midlist writers and their backlist still made it to the superstores, but not the smaller retail outlets and not to their customer base in certain regions.

And the older books didn’t stand a chance. Unless they were being released in classy editions that looked good as wallpaper.

So here’s the upshot. By the beginning of the new century, the old genre classics in science fiction, fantasy, romance, and mystery were unavailable. They weren’t in new bookstores; they had a small (and often expensive) presence in used bookstores; and they weren’t in libraries.

If someone had heard of a particular classic writer, that reader had to order the book from Amazon or eBay or some bookseller somewhere else. Maybe. If the book didn’t cost an arm and a leg.

Collectors, much as I love the ones in my life, don’t read the books they collect. They own them and display them and often won’t let anyone touch them.

Stories that would have remained in print, read, and loved for generations in the old system became unavailable.

So now that we’ve moved to the new world of publishing, a lot of these stories are being reprinted—by pirates. After Jeffro Johnson mentioned Andre Norton, I immediately looked to see what books of hers were in print. Of course, I went to ebooks first, and what I found (on a quick search at our writers lunch) were cheap pirated editions—free or 99 cents.

After I returned to my office, I looked up the estate stuff (because I had a vague memory of it), and learned that some of Andre Norton’s books are being reprinted from reputable publishers.  But that hiatus while the estate was being settled plus the time it takes for books to be produced traditionally allowed a lot of pirates to get their hands on her segment of the market.

Please, folks, I beg of you, as you search for classic works, make sure that whoever you’re buying that work from is a legitimate publisher or the author herself. Because otherwise, your money will go into the pocket of a thief and the writer or his estate will make no money at all.

What happened with Andre Norton happened in a variety of ways to other older writers or writers’ estates. Copyright issues, draconian contracts, inept families running once-valuable estates, the impossibility of selling a book (for some of these writers) in the last two decades of the century caused a lot of beloved works to simply vanish.

If a writer’s work is impossible to get, then it’s impossible to become loved by a new generation.

That black hole, caused by the changes in bookselling and libraries from about 1979-2000 caused two generations to miss out on classic works of the genre. Not old moldy stuff that no one cares about, but really really good fiction that the readers would love if they only could get their hands on it.

It’s now up to us, the readers who grew up with some of this fiction, to revive it for a new generation. We need to ask for it. We need to get libraries to order it or make it available. We need to make websites devoted to older works. We need to give copies to younger readers.

The new world of publishing makes it possible for readers to find these works again. Readers just have to know these works exist and have to ask for them.

Then, when a publisher actually reprints some of these older works, we need to buy those works and give them to friends and family, and recommend those works on all of the reader sites.

We went through a few business cycles which caused an actual Dark Ages in literature. If we’re not careful, we will lose a part of our heritage that shouldn’t have gotten lost.

The more I dig into this women in science fiction project, the more I realize just how much has disappeared. The more readers contact me, the more I realize how great the generation gap is.

Young writers professing an ignorance of the past got me started on this project. These writers said that women had never had a place in science fiction, and I knew that was wrong. But when I tried to find books to disprove the point made by those writers, I couldn’t find much that was in print.

From a look at the evidence—and the dearth of materials online as well—it would seem that the young writers are right. In the Information Age, information is being lost.

I’ve told this story several times in the past month, and I’m beginning to hear from writers who are experiencing something similar in other genres. I’ll be doing what I can as a writer, editor, blogger, and part owner of a publishing house. I’m partnering with John Helfers on some projects, Baen on the big women in sf project, and with some others as I dig deeper into this morass. Dean’s helping too. He just gave me a favorite story of his by a favorite female sf writer last night.

I’m going to be asking for more.

But this is one project. There need to be many more.

And then you older readers need to step up. You need to let people know what you loved and what you think is an essential book for a well-read person to have in a personal library.

You also have to buy these books of classics when they appear. Not the pirate edition. But the real edition. The one that cost money.

I took a few days off blogging on the women in science fiction site because I was traveling and doing promotion on the release of the new Retrieval Artist book. (Dean did a great piece on how that series works into the new world of publishing. Check it out.) But I’m back blogging and reading again—and enjoying the hell out of myself.

Old fiction doesn’t mean bad fiction. Yes, occasionally, the language or some of the concepts are dated. But the storytelling isn’t.

We can resurrect our favorites, if we make it clear to publishers, editors, and other readers that we want these stories to return to print. Yes, I’m on a crusade. Yes, I think it’s time.

And I’m grateful that this new world makes reviving these works possible.

I also want to thank those of you who have made suggestions so far. You have made me realize just how deep the impact of business changes was on readers. I’ve been blogging for six years on how much these changes affected writers. I never really thought to look at the impact the changes had on what we actually read.

Thank you all for opening my eyes to that. I’m getting quite an education—in a variety of ways.

One of the fun things about these journeys I’m taking in both sf and in nonfiction blogging is the interaction with you readers. You enrich the experience so very much, with comments, knowledge, suggestions, and ideas. Thank you!

Thank you as well for the donations which keep me blogging on the publishing industry. I carve time out of my busy schedule to examine the changes in the industry because I get direct funding from all of you.

I do love the changes in this new world. I don’t think I realized the extent of the desert we had created in the past 25 years until I found the lush green hills and lagoons of this new publishing world.

Thank you.

Click Here to Go To PayPal.

“Business Musings: Hidden Treasures,” copyright © 2015 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.




35 responses to “Business Musings: Hidden Treasures”

  1. Cirsova says:

    Thank you for doing this. This is awesome. I’ve read a bit of Norton and just recently have been turned onto Brackett by Jeffro. I’d definitely like to find more like those; even if you see names on shelves in flea-markets or whatnot, unless you’ve heard about who’s who, you don’t know where to begin! It’s made me appreciate anthologies a lot more, because when I’m done I know who to buy books by and who to avoid.

  2. JP Watts says:

    Kristine Kathryn Rusch ~ just wanted to point out to Andre Norton Fans that a somewhat more in-depth article on the andre Norton Estate Legal problems can be found here ~ http://andre-norton-books.com/index.php/space-junk/junk-yard/810-estate-trial

  3. This was a really educational post! Like you, I understood how business changes affected writers, but they affected readers, too. And it’s not so much Big Bad Publishers who only care about bestsellers–they literally couldn’t sell anything else. Something to think about.

  4. You should take a road trip to my neck of the woods: SoCal. My alma mater, UC Riverside, has a unique collection of sci-fi and fantasy. They state it is the world’s largest collection that is publicly-accessible. You could spend your whole week buried in their collection and write it off as a business expense 🙂
    http://eaton.ucr.edu/

  5. 1. A lot of Andre Norton’s books have fallen into the public domain, or the original version of the book is in the public domain while later versions are not. Since I’ve never actually seen Ride Proud, Rebel! or Rebel Spurs until I just now saw it on Gutenberg, I’m okay with that.

    2. Baen has been reprinting a fair amount of Norton in omnibus editions (2 or 3 short novels in a series = 1 modern length novel). However, IIRC, some of them had a lot of “antiquated details” edited out of them. Of course, this does count as a “later version” with its own copyright, so there’s that.

    3. I get the sense that Norton audiobooks are fairly popular.

  6. Alan Spade says:

    Fascinating… Although the cynical part of me wonders whether resurrecting old works would not bring more competition for me as an indie writer. Competition for the readers’ reading time, which is not unlimited.

    The more optimist part of me thinks that those old works could help us in creating more new readers, and help people notice that there are other things than movies and videogames in life.

    Regarding the estate issue, wouldn’t it be possible to consider this issue as a temporary one? Because, once the rights revert in the public domain, everyone will be able to download the ebooks of those authors for free, in theory? I know, it takes time.

    My feeble contribution to your search: the link to Science-fiction by Women on the Project Gutemberg website: https://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Science_Fiction_by_Women_%28Bookshelf%29

    • Alan, your worry about competition is silly. Sorry. There are hundreds of thousands of new books published every year worldwide, and have been in our lifetime. Your job, as a writer, to tell stories well enough that people prefer your work to their other choices. That’s all.

      As for the estate issue, it depends on what you mean by temporary. The author’s lifetime plus 70, more in the States if the changes being considered happen. So even for writers who died, as Andre Norton did, in the early part of this century, the works won’t hit the public domain until 2075.

      Frankly, I don’t believe information wants to be free. Artists and their estates need payment to keep the works alive. The works that are curated, by their authors or their authors’ estates, are the ones that have life beyond life + 70. The rest seem to drop into obscurity very, very fast.

      Thank you for the link.

    • rooty2 says:

      Alan Spade: I’ll be dead and so will you by the time most of these books enter the public domain. It’s the author’s death date plus 70 years, which means, for example, that Andre Norton’s work won’t be available until at least 2075. The purpose of copyright is to encourage creators to create. I for one don’t think they’re still encouraged 70 years beyond their deaths. I’m not generous about copyright. I think it should be the author’s life plus 25 years (allowing even posthumously born children to reach adulthood and make it through college or other early vocational training). And on the face of it, many literary estates are poorly run. But I’m not an insider and am open to being educated on the subject.

      • Alan Spade says:

        I agree, Rooty2. 25 years beyond the author’s death sounds good for me.

      • Robin Munn says:

        I far prefer a fixed-term copyright over “author’s life plus X years”, no matter the value of X. The best arguments against an “X years after the author’s death” term were, in my opinion, presented in 1842 (!) by Thomas Macaulay, in a speech to the British House of Commons. Another member of Parliament, whom Macaulay refers to as “my noble friend” throughout his speech, had proposed a copyright term of the author’s life plus 25 years, and Macaulay argued instead for a fixed term of 42 years. The whole thing can be read at http://www.baen.com/library/prime_palaver4.asp, but I’ll quote a few relevant passages:

        “Take Milton. Milton died in 1674. The copyrights of Milton’s great works would, according to my noble friend’s plan, expire in 1699. Comus appeared in 1634, the Paradise Lost in 1668. To Comus, then, my noble friend would give sixty-five years of copyright, and to the Paradise Lost only thirty-one years. Is that reasonable? Comus is a noble poem: but who would rank it with the Paradise Lost? My plan would give forty-two years both to the Paradise Lost and to Comus.”

        “What I recommend is that the certain term, reckoned from the date of publication, shall be forty-two years instead of twenty-eight years. In this arrangement there is no uncertainty, no inequality. The advantage which I propose to give will be the same to every book. No work will have so long a copyright as my noble friend gives to some books, or so short a copyright as he gives to others. No copyright will last ninety years. No copyright will end in twenty-eight years. To every book published in the course of the last seventeen years of a writer’s life I give a longer term of copyright than my noble friend gives; and I am confident that no person versed in literary history will deny this,—that in general the most valuable works of an author are published in the course of the last seventeen years of his life.”

        Read the whole thing, even if you disagree with a fixed-term copyright proposal; it’s a wonderful speech, and I wish more modern politicians talked like this.

        • Copyright is property. So what you’re advocating here is that you buy a house and must move out of it 42 years later and/or allow anyone who wants to to live in it. If you understand what copyright actually is and how it actually works, you’ll see why limited copyright does not benefit an artist and his heirs.

          • Robin Munn says:

            It’s more like building a house than buying it, but otherwise you’ve correctly summed up my position. (I also favor a 50-year term rather than the 42-year term Macaulay advocates, but that’s also a minor detail).

            The reason for fixed-term copyright is because of the tension between copyright and the public domain. If the length of copyright is too short, the author won’t benefit and won’t have any incentive to create. But if the length of copyright is too long, then nobody will have the right to create new works based on the original work for far too long. It’s the same thing with patents: the patent is granted for a fixed period because there’s also value in letting other people build off the inventor’s original idea, and so the law strikes a balance between the inventor’s interests and the interests of other, rival inventors.

            I have to leave now, but I’ll try to respond more later.

            • I do understand the tension with the public domain. And I’m not sure I agree with it. (I really understand it in patent law.) Copyright allows the copyright holder to license derivative works.

              No need to continue to belabor the point. I doubt we’ll convince each other. 🙂 I’m glad we agree that copyright is essential; just the period of time differs.

  7. I live in Portland OR, where Ursula Le Guin lives, and mentioned her offhandedly to some coworkers (science fiction/fantasy computer programming nerds) and they hadn’t heard of her. I didn’t even know how to explain how important she is. I was completely taken off guard by the fact that they didn’t know her. Thank you for this work. It will help.

  8. Ready4more says:

    Even currently working writers such as CJ Cherryh do not have their whole body of work available. Some of her books, such as Rider at the Gate and Cloud’s Rider are simply not available. I’m hoping that CJ, who is looking to get her rights back on her older books will eventually be able to epublish all her earlier works. I managed to pick up just about all of her works in dead tree versions over the years, but I’m trying to downsize and every time I find an authorized ebook version, I can spread the used books out to Friends of the Library or a used book seller.

    • rooty2 says:

      Cherryh has a couple of her earliest books in digital editions available on her own website. The publisher for most of her works, DAW, is excruciatingly slow at converting its pre-digital-workflow backlist to digital (I hope it’s mainly for quality assurance, at which even the Big 5 publishers are embarrassingly bad). Cyteen isn’t DAW; it’s Warner Aspect, I think, now owned by the Hachette mega-conglomerate. The Morgaine books are allegedly due in digital this fall.

  9. Don Fitch says:

    Most of that is Spot-On, though I wish you’d paid more attention to NSFA Press, which has reprinted & kept in print a fair amount of important s-f. I happen to love much/most of Andre Norton’s work, though I don’t think she was more than a competent writer. She did, however, do a perfectly marvelous job of hitting the nail on the head and driving it home in science-fiction for 12-16 year-old readers, and I think most of her works would still do that for today’s kids in about that age range. Yeah, I know about the “xxxxx Generation” thing, but it seems to me that Publishers frequently fail to realize that the generation that”s currently coming on is extremely likely to be captivated by the same books the previous generation was at that age.

    I’d also note that many Libraries (like the one here in West Covina, CA.) have a Book Sales area (50 cents for paperbacks, $1 for most hardcovers) to which people like me — headed for an assisted-living place where we can have only one small bookshelf — donate boxes and boxes of books, including many Norton titles.

  10. I ran into this just yesterday, although not with science fiction. A radio host was talking about the Bilderberg Meeting taking place this week, and I was reminded of Taylor Caldwell’s “Captains and the Kings.” I thought it might be interesting to re-read this (on my Kindle so I can see it), but I was shocked to find it’s no longer in print. So I checked the library. Uh uh. No copy there either.

    Then I dug into my double-stacked bookcases. This book made such an impression on me, I still have the mass market paperback, published in 1972. It’s survived multiple cullings as I thinned my book collection for various moves. To think that it’s almost impossible for anyone who doesn’t have an old copy to find it and read it shocked me. Taylor Caldwell was such a big bestseller back in the seventies, it never crossed my mind that I’d be unable to find this book.

    Some of the others she wrote are in ebook form. What your post has done is given me a nudge to contact the publisher (if they’re still doing this) to get them to add my favorite to their catalog.

    • Just had to add, since I found the site for the publisher of Taylor Caldwell’s books (and several other vintage authors) this bit of information: eNet Press was started in 2011 by George Forester and John Forester, the sons of C.S. Forester. George and John produced Hornblower ebooks as their first effort, with Eric Savage designing the book covers.

      • rooty2 says:

        Elise M. Stone: Yeah. eNet was one of those new media publishers I thought sounded kind of dodgy when they first brought out Forester’s books (which I gobbled up–and not just the Hornblowers) at a reasonable price. It took some research (thank you, Internet) to connect the dots since there was no PR about it. Then there was E-Reads, which brought out a lot of sff (including Ellison, Aldiss, Brunner, Susan Shwartz, Cecelia Holland, Fritz Leiber, Roberta MacAvoy, among others), and eventually got sold to Open Road Media, and Premier Digital (also eventually sold to Open Road), which brought out lots of Andre Norton (but not the original Witch World books, alas).

  11. viktor says:

    Norman Spinrad on his blog years ago asked for help in digitizing his back catalog. He was dubious that ebooks were worth his while. Even with books that were out of print. Kinda maybe he’d pay if you helped and if it all worked out. (I’m misremembering to be sure, but the gist is right).

    Well, guess who’s back catalog books are available at Amazon via ebook? Spinrad’s.
    http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=sr_nr_n_11?fst=as%3Aoff&rh=n%3A133140011%2Ck%3Anorman+spinrad&keywords=norman+spinrad&ie=UTF8&qid=1434077296&rnid=2941120011

    Even Harlan Ellison has ebooked just about everything he’s done via Amazon. And via Kindle Unlimited, no less.
    http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_3_5?url=search-alias%3Ddigital-text&field-keywords=harlan+ellison&sprefix=harla%2Caps%2C276&rh=n%3A133140011%2Ck%3Aharlan+ellison

    “Out of print” will mean less and less as we go on. (Until the gigantic solar flare of death, at which time, yeah, those print books might be nice.)

    While I understand having a hard copy in my hands is awesome, ultimately, meh. I’m one who plays Sinatra gray label (mono!) LPs, while I still love that my phone can hold his entire catalog.

  12. This essay reminds me of how incredibly different my bookbuying experience is now than it was when I was a young reader. As a teenager, I became a big fan of mystery author Elizabeth Peters aka romantic suspense writer Barbara Michaels (who also wrote nonfiction under her real name, Barbara Mertz).

    These days, a couple minutes online would allow me to uncover the information that this one person wrote under three different names;a listing of all titles written under each name, including the chronological order in which the books were published, as well as the sequential reading order of any of her series (she wrote several).

    Within another couple of minutes, I could buy and download any of those titles that are in ebook format; and if there are any that are out-of-print and not available as ebooks, I could easily find and order used copies–and I could do this easily (albeit for a bigger postal fee) even if the books are only available overseas.

    Truly, we live in a Golden Age!

    Back when I was 17, I was an Elizabeth Peters fan for a year before I even learned she was also writing under the name Barbara Michaels. It took several years and personal contact with the author even to get a listing of all her works (which was also when I finally learned she also wrote nonfiction under a third name). For years after that, I met other fans of her work who had no idea that she had more than one name. Because so many of her books were out of print, finding them meant combing through second-hand bookstores and sales wherever I went, for -years-, in search of those titles. New releases were very easy to miss, because you had to happen, by sheer luck, to be in a bookstore when the book was new and the two copies ordered were still available. So I often missed a new release of this author entirely and would stumble on it by accident several years later in a used bookstore somewhere. Series were released so incoherent that I didn’t know until several years after I’d read book #3 of a series of her that (a) it was a series book and (b) there were two previous books. And so on.

    I do not miss those days!

  13. acflory says:

    Kathryn, could we start a list of women in sci-fi? You mentioned Ursula K LeGuin [one of my all time favourites] but what about C.J. Cherryh? Her Cyteen won the Hugo and she’s still creating new books in the Foreigner series. Or Sheri S. Tepper? Anne McCaffrey? Joan de Vinge? Robin Hobb [fantasy]?

    I know there are more, I just can’t think of them at the moment. And then there are the men who have slipped into obscurity – Theodore Sturgeon and More Than Human, H. Beam Piper and Little Fuzzy…. Gah, this will haunt me now for days. We have to do something!

    • The first thing to do is fix Wikipedia’s page. When you see the women in science fiction page (or at least the one I saw a month ago), it listed almost no authors published before 2000. I’ve started a list on the women in science fiction site. (Link in the blog) and eventually I’ll do another sf site. The Internet Science Fiction Database has some of this, but it’s not kept up or double-checked as often as need be.

      Talk to publishers. Get them to bring out your favorites again. Now’s the time!

    • The first thing to do is fix Wikipedia’s page. When you see the women in science fiction page (or at least the one I saw a month ago), it listed almost no authors published before 2000. I’ve started a list on the women in science fiction site. (Link in the blog) and eventually I’ll do another sf site. The Internet Science Fiction Database has some of this, but it’s not kept up or double-checked as often as need be.

      I think Baen reissued H. Beam Piper. Not sure.

      Talk to publishers. Get them to bring out your favorites again. Now’s the time!

  14. Kathy Bailey says:

    Kristine, this is so true. When I was growing up and a younger adult, I could depend on being able to come back to a favorite book in the library. I figured the books would always be there because that was what libraries were FOR. But they weren’t, because they were taking up prime real estate. It’s one of the things I dislike about the Information Age. And don’t get me started on people who use books for décor.

  15. Lurkertype says:

    When I was a kid in the late 70’s, my reward for getting dragged to the grocery store by mom was to go over to the book section and buy something SF. They had everything! I got Silverberg’s “Dying Inside” (quite the eye-opener to a sheltered suburban kid), and some great 1930’s and 1940’s pulp by Jack Williamson, and the same for fantasy. I didn’t care when it was written (though I could tell the older books by the jungles of Venus and the tiny aliens of Mercury), I just loved it all.

    You can’t get that anywhere today, and it’s a shame. I sigh every time I go past the book display in my grocery stores now — there’s no SF at all and only an occasional fantasy, even in the more upscale one.

  16. rooty2 says:

    This is one reason I love digital books–the resurrection of backlists, especially of midlist authors, whose disappearance from the libraries (let alone bookstores) has been a cultural tragedy. And no, I don’t knowingly buy pirated books, but it’s not always easy to tell since some no-name publishers who sound fishy are legit and some who sound legit aren’t. As far as I can tell, the big e-book retailers don’t vet publishers but just wait until a rights holder complains.

    I also write some of the new media publishers who are bringing out midlist backlists to suggest authors for said resurrection (mostly mysteries and I’m favoring female authors just because). Don’t know whether they pay attention, but the more requests they get, the more likely they are to look into it. At least I hope so.

  17. playnoevil says:

    As a Californian who remembers libraries before Prop 13, these changes hit me viscerally.

    Speaking of estates, there may be a mess brewing with Terry Pratchet’s a solid license just got pulled for a boardgame based on Diskworld.

    • viktor says:

      Huh? I’m a Californian too. We’ve got boatloads of libraries. As a member of the Los Angeles Public Library, I get access to tons of free ebooks as well as access to lots of rare books at their main desk. And a new branch recently opened up nearby. When I lived in San Francisco, kids books had no late fees — movie were free. As a UCLA alum, I can get rare Fredric Brown novels via the UC system. Etc.

      The libraries in CA are better than ever. Easier access! LAPL will deliver your Hold request to any library you like. You’ll get an email and have 7 days to pick it up. Get online and lace a Hold. It’s freaking awesome what is available. Audio books too.

      I am not a librarian, nor work for a library, nor am married to a librarian, etc, etc, etc.

      What on earth are you talking about?

      .

  18. jrmurdock says:

    Thank you so much for your dedication to this effort. There are so many classic sci fi and fantasy books that need to be resurected. There have been many times I have sought out a book from a bygone era only to see a paperback edition on eBay for $100.

    I know your current focus is on women in sci fi (and I will be buying this when it comes out) and I would also be interested in any classic sci fi collection. So many great books I read as a kid sitting in the school library need to suddenly reappear for a new era.

    Again, thank you for what you’re doing.

    • I’m thinking of doing that, jrmurdock. There are so many wonderful stories that fit with the other stories…Oh, my! 🙂

    • rooty2 says:

      jrmurdock: Wildside Press has been bringing out lots of digital collections of classic science fiction (and some other genres); many of the collections are of stories in the public domain, but Wildside has also negotiated rights for some works still in copyright. Most of the single-author collections are of male writers. But I’m pretty sure they’re legit. They’re inexpensive, available direct from Wildside or from Weightless Books (and from the big e-book retailers), and are DRM-free.

Leave a Reply