|Backlist Books (Massillon, Ohio)|
There is, however, one use of e-books for which I enthusiastically applaud e-book publishers - publishing from backlists. Thousands and thousands of wonderful books, many of which probably never saw even close to 10,000 printed copies, disappear every year. Unless a reader stumbles upon them in used-book bookstores or during eBay searches, they remain dead to the world. Not every great book is written by an established, or commercially popular, author. Generally, the best books are buried by enormous piles of the same popular trash that covers the shelves and floors of used-book stores everywhere. James Patterson books, most of which are worthy of little more than doorstop-duty, are everywhere. Good books are the needles lost in the James Patterson haystack.
Most publishers are sitting on backlist goldmines if they will just wake up and mine them. Publishers already doing so don't seem to be doing enough to get the word out about their efforts. Dedicated readers will jump all over the chance to discover the books they missed from the eighties, nineties, and oughts. If - and this is a big if - publishers will price them reasonably. After all, publisher cost will be minimal because readers will not demand major formatting changes (they will probably prefer seeing the original formatting, actually) other than to fit them to the electronic page. Authors should be happy to accept the windfall this represents, so royalty negotiation could be relatively easy.
This can be a win-win situation in which all sides benefit. I would love access to noir mysteries from the fifties and sixties, literary fiction from the last fifty years, and out-of-print science fiction. The possibilities are endless.
The Guardian newspaper's book section mentions two publishing ventures that are already moving in this direction: Bello a Macmillan imprint and the Bloomsbury Reader imprint. I suspect there are others, hopefully some of them by American publishers, but I have yet to find them. Holler at me, publishers...I'm listening.
I'll buy a ton off the backlists at $3 to $5 a pop. Let's do it.