Plunging Through Time To Rescue Out Of Print Sci-Fi Books

from the to-infinity-and-beyond dept

From time to time, we talk about the issue of orphaned works and how these out of print books are doing nobody any good. The public loses out as they are out of print and very often can't be found. The authors or owners of the copyright lose out because no one is buying them any more. Often times, the person who owns the copyright has no idea they own it. There is a definite need to help all parties involved in this murky area by bringing these works back to life. That is what one recently opened book store, Singularity & Co., plans to do.

Via BoingBoing, we learn that this store plans to rescue one out of print sci-fi book each month by seeking out the owner of the copyright and purchasing the rights to publish the ebook.

We love books. A lot. And we love sci-fi books, new and old. But mostly old. And there are a lot of great old sci-fi books out there that are out of print, out of circulation, and, worst of all, not available in any sort of digital format. Given the subject material, that’s just not right. So here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to open a bookshop, both online and in real life, in Brooklyn, NY where we live and work. It doesn’t have to make much money. It doesn’t have to make any money at all, since our day jobs cover our rent.

But what it will do is let us choose one great out of print work or classic and/or obscure sci-fi a month, track down the people that hold the copyright (if they are still around), and publish that work online and on all the major digital book platforms for little or no cost. Every month on this website visitors will get to vote on the next great but not so well remembered work we will rescue from the obscurity of the past.

This is certainly a huge undertaking, especially if the community votes to revive a work that has a really tough to find copyright holder. But as they succeed in bringing these books back from obscurity, they will achieve success, not just in this endeavor, but also as a book store. We have mentioned before that if brick and mortar book stores want to compete in the modern age, they have to think outside the box. This particular effort may not succeed (though we hope it will), but these kinds of experiments keep happening, and inevitably will lead to interesting new success stories.

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Companies: signularity & co

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Comments on “Plunging Through Time To Rescue Out Of Print Sci-Fi Books”

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Ant says:

Fabulous Idea!

I love scifi. I mean *really really* love scifi. I have a large number of early works, dozens from the pre-WW2 era of classic pulp fiction.

As I live in the UK, I live in a classically small house with no space for books anymore so I’ve gone digital. In fact my old scifi books are up for sale. So this idea is just what I want, a sanity saver if ever there was one.

I’m checking out that I can be allowed to join up, if I can my first vote will be for Jack Williamson’s Legion of Space series, or perhaps his Humanoid series, or maybe some Edmund Cooper, or A.E. Van Vogt, or …

teka (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Does thinking hurt you so much that you just don’t bother to read articles and understand them before posting?

According to every detail this looks like a project being set up to do the hard work and jump through the hoops that copyright demands of it.

Does someone own the rights to a particular work? Have they expired, have they been sold, leased, licensed or otherwise sublet?

If “Intellectual Property” is like any kind of property then it really is supposed to be the responsibility of someone to know what they own.

Just throwing up one’s hands and exclaiming that “Someone must own it forever, no reason to look for information” is not just foolish but it is against very reasons copyright is meant to exist.

gorehound (profile) says:

I love science fiction and own a Library which contains not one digital book nor will it ever go that route.
I own 303 Vintage Science Fiction Pulps
I own around 1100 Paperbacks including many old Avons, Ace,Lion,Beacon, ETC Rarities
To finish off I own around 200 Hard Covers.
I do have some galleries up if Rare Scifi Interests you.
Ebooks need not Apply !

Anonymous Coward says:

Copyright Registration

Every copyright is a grant of a monopoly privilege by the government. It is disgraceful that the bureaucrats at the copyright office should be so incompetent that they do not know how to contact every owner of a copyright. There should be a publicly-accessible register of copyright owners maintained by the copyright office. The owners of any copyright should have a responsibility to keep their contact details up-to-date. If they fail to do so, for longer than, say two years, their work enters the public domain. Once a work has entered the public domain, that is a one-way trip, it just stays there.

A publicly-accessible register listing all works registered under copyright should be maintained by the copyright office. It should be trivial for an ordinary member of the public to find out whether some work is under copyright or not, when the copyright expires and how to contact the copyright owner.

E. Zachary Knight (profile) says:

Re: Copyright Registration

There was once a time when such a registry did exist. Back before the insane change to grant automatice copyright to everything. Of course then copyright was only for 14 years and the only time you had to update your information was if you chose to renew for another 14 years.

But with today’s system of absurd copyright length and automatic copyright status, if something is not owned by a corporation or in constant publication, after 14-30 years, it can be near impossible to track down the copyright owner.

bob (profile) says:

Another Paywall, another great idea.

And I would like to welcome BoingBoing to join me and TechDirt in the Paywall lovers club. I wish them the best of luck raising the money to bring out these ebooks.

(Although I will add that I’m confused about how this will help any brick and mortar store survive. They’re just becoming publishers and that is independent from running a book store. Heck, they’re talking about releasing ebooks and so that won’t give anyone a reason to visit their physical store. So I think that all of that stuff about thinking outside the box to save a bookstore is bogus.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Another Paywall, another great idea.

“Although I will add that I’m confused about how this will help any brick and mortar store survive.”

Well, first off, your confusion is natural. You’re bob. It takes real effort to be as thick as you are about most things. So let’s try and help alleviate that confusion (not that it’ll do much good because you’re still going to be bob even after I explain things to you).

First off, this is a new business idea for brick and mortar stores to try. This one is doing something unique. They are a brick and mortar store specializing in one particular genre (sci fi, in case you somehow missed that). But in addition to being a brick and mortar store (where people can shop and peruse the various sci fi offerings), they are going to try and find no longer published works and allow people to vote on which ones they’d like to see published and sold (in physical form and as digital offerings), but they’ll do this by reaching out to the authors and purchasing publishing rights from them.

“They’re just becoming publishers and that is independent from running a book store.”

Well, it’s not shocking that’s what you took from this. But bob, there’s this thing called the internet and you can find out way more info if you just take a few seconds to search for it.

For instance, there’s an article about this same thing (with way more information) on The Verge.

Suffice it to say, they are NOT just becoming publishers. They are very much a real book store and it is being run by people who are fans of the genre. Their goal is to keep some of these books from becoming lost to the ages. How so? By publishing them after they acquire the rights. But they are still very much a book store. And in a surprising turn of events which will blow your mind, they don’t care if they turn a profit or lose money on the venture. (They’ve actually stated this, and have also stated that they have “day jobs which more than pay the rent”.)

“Heck, they’re talking about releasing ebooks and so that won’t give anyone a reason to visit their physical store.”

No, that is not even remotely close to accurate. If you visit the link I posted you’ll see the inside of the store. There is plenty of reasons to visit it (if you can). Namely, getting the books yourself. Secondly, connecting with other sci fi fans. Thirdly, if you purchase a Lifetime Membership to the store, you not only get a book per month in physical form (which will be one of the ones saved), you also get the ability to swap them for ANY book on the store shelves (free of charge). Which is an additional reason to visit the store. Book you got in the mail not up to your standards, feel free to visit and trade it for another. Or just come on down and peruse our selection in our unique store. (See the pics in that article I linked to.)

“So I think that all of that stuff about thinking outside the box to save a bookstore is bogus.”

bob, frankly, no one gives a flying fuck what you think. None of what you think is based on anything but your personal opinion, which DOES NOT make it fact.

This is very much outside the box, but you made a huge mistake in your sentence. You think this is about saving a book store, it’s not. This is about saving older sci fi books. Thus the “thinking outside the box” stuff. Which is evident in that they want to find the authors who wrote these older works and PAY THEM to get the rights to republish the works.

So yeah, basically, stfu you’re as wrong as you’ve ever been and you aren’t even bothering to see how innovative and unique this entire thing really is.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Another Paywall, another great idea.

Oh, and one more thing, how is a book store a paywall?

Seriously bob, get a fucking dictionary. Because you seem to think if anything that requires you to pay for it is a paywall. (THAT IS NOT THE CASE, NOR AT ALL WHAT A PAYWALL IS.)

Also, hilarious that a book store selling books is a paywall and you say so, but when it comes to movies and music I’ve never once heard you say that theaters or dvd retailers or the studios/labels are promoting paywalls. You’re a hypocrite you know that? (I’m sure you don’t. Ignorance is bliss and all.)

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Another Paywall, another great idea.

Although I will add that I’m confused about how this will help any brick and mortar store survive. They’re just becoming publishers and that is independent from running a book store.

Why is having a physical store a meaningful distinction?

They are a bookseller. Being a physical store is an aspect of being a bookseller, but not the core definition. If they went entirely electronic and no longer had a storefront at all, but still met their customer’s needs, they’ll survive just fine.

I’m not sure why this point confuses you.

Besides, they’re talking about doing this for a dozen books a year. They is certainly an infinitesimal percentage of their total stock even if they keep it up for many, many years.

Russ (profile) says:


Eric Flint at Baen Books has been doing a similar thing for several years. I think their focus is more on authors with a catalog.

One thing that has always confused me with regards to the control publishers demand around the copywrite is the failure to republish their back catalog. You would think that would be free money but they seem to have no interest in epublishin what they already have.

Josh King (profile) says:

Harder than it sounds . . .

I really hope this works for them. But I’m not optimistic. I tried something similar, to obtain the right to reprint the wonderful “Book of Marvels” by Richard Halliburton. My son and read an old (1941) edition of it and wanted to share it with his class.

So we started tracking down the copyright holder. It took a lot of research and email; publishing houses often change hands, and many have very similar names. We finally found the person who could grant the reprint rights . . . and they simply weren’t interested. Maybe it was too small of a request, but they couldn’t be bothered.

It’s frustrating that these back catalogs can be locked up so, especially considering how they could be made available via e-books or on-demand publishing at little to no cost (or licensed out to those who want to do so).

So best of luck on this effort – but it may take quitting the day jobs to make it fly.

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