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Legacy Content

Old_booksJoel Fugazzotto offers some thoughts on his blog about what publishers and authors could do to make out-of-print and other legacy content available.  This subject is also a subtopic within Lawrence Lessig's Free Culture, which I reviewed and recommended earlier.

Joel's point is valid.  There's no reason for anyone (publisher/author) to sit on old content, especially since someone somewhere could probably benefit from access to it.  In some respects, that's a problem Google no doubt hopes to eventually address with their Book Search service.

It becomes a thorny issue though as print-on-demand (POD) is becoming more and more popular.  Publishers who previously would have been willing to let a book go out-of-print and revert rights to authors now see POD as a way to squeeze every last bit of revenue from the long tail.  Individual titles may not cast off a lot of POD revenue but the income level can become significant when you have a very large list of titles contributing to it.

What to do?  I think this has to be addressed on a case-by-case basis.  As a publisher, if I feel I can still generate a reasonable amount of income off an old title via POD, and therefore it should also continue to generate some income for the author, I generally want to hang onto it and the associated rights.  That said, I'm also sensitive to an author's needs and interests and have certainly reverted rights on plenty of books over the years.

If you're an author who has a "legacy content" situation with a publisher, my advice is to hook up with your editor/publisher and discuss the options.  Don't just let the content sit.  For all you know, they might not even have explored POD as a solution for your book yet!


Michael A. Banks

As an author, I can't see footing the bill for POD setup. But I am looking into Google's POD plan.

I own the rights to three dozen of my books. If Safari or another e-book operation could do something with certain of my titles, I'd be interested in working with them (though not signing over all rights). As I said over on Joel's blog, many of my old books about "obsolete" sofware products and hardware have serious value in the long tail.

I can't see setting up and maintaining a site to sell these titles. But if a publisher is willing to handle them in aggregate, I'd be interested. Is there enough long tail market in offering the aggregate to make it worthwhile for a publisher? Hard to say. Maybe the publisher would be doing it out of altruism, like Houghton-Miffline publishing poetry collections that lose money.

Actually, Safari E-Books might do well with several of my old titles.

Joe Wikert

Hi Mike. Interesting idea. Actually, I wonder if Safari or Books24x7 would be interested in creating a separate site just for this sort of content. As authors get their rights back to books, they could put them into this new program. I'm thinking it would have to be completely free to end users and that the entire program would be funded with advertising. The site owners (Books24x7/Safari) could then pass a portion of the ad income to the authors. All the content would be freely accessible and Google would suck it all into their archive so that plenty of traffic can be generated from searches. They've already got the engine and almost all of the infrastructure (without the ad support, of course), so it would be an interesting way to further leverage their existing investment(s).

Michael A. Banks

Now that's interesting. I was thinking of one of those sites selling downloads. I suppose ad revenue is a possibility, although an uncertain one (which you've discussed here).

There are additional benefits. Having the books available would keep the authors' names out there, as a continual reminder of their expertise. (Might be a good idea to provide links to contact authors.) And the publisher hosting the books would presumably benefit from people looking at new books.

Joe Wikert

You're absolutely right about the additional exposure and visibility benefits for the authors. Now we just need to either (a) get one of the existing online book sites to take an interest or (b) find someone who's willing to start this venture themselves...


I have posted this comment on the clearcontent site as well:

the clearcontent blogger states:
"most books on Windows 98 were either out of print or hard to find..."

yet Amazon lists many Win98 titles, gently-used books for less than a dollar (plus shipping).

Given publishers' limited resources (production, editorial, marketing, infrastructure updates/support), the obvious need to stay head of competition by being at the forefront of new technologies, AND the limited number of users who will really need outdated info asap (ie, can't wait for a used book to ship from amazon,, ebay etc) -- this idea doesn't make any sense to me.

In terms of a third-party outfit that offered POD content, seems like the real money's to be made in red-hot content, not in using resources to aquire/support content on an outdated OS/technology like Win98.

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