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Old 11-14-2010, 04:37 AM   #1
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Why is backlists taken so long to be turned into e-books?

I went to look for something new to read and found a lot of interesting books written everything from 5-30 years back. Almost all of these book is not to be found as e-books.

Why is this?
Is it the publishers that are dragging there feet behind or is the authors sitting on the e-book rights that are not aware of a big new potential market.

I find it frustrating because although new books seems to be digitized right away old books are really lagging behind.

What is happening with Googles digital book project and there ambition to scan and sell every book online?
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Old 11-14-2010, 04:55 AM   #2
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One reason could be that while new books are often done from a reasonably digital source, older ones often have to have said source made either by scanning or otherwise re-creating it.

One of my favourite fantasy/historical/mystery authors, Barbara Hambly, has been trying to digitize her older out-of-print rights-reverted books, but apparently her work team consists of her mother typing it all manually from paper copies after she lost her original manuscripts to a hard drive crash years ago.

If an author/publisher has to do it this way and then make an e-book format on top of that, then it may be too much of an added cost for whomever the current rights-holder is to consider it worth their time, especially if the book is still in physical print and/or seemingly low demand.

Sf author Norman Spinrad has reportedly been cleaning up darknet copies of his older books in order to make the legit versions which he sells in the Kindle store, so that's a route that could be taken in order to cut down costs/time.

But this probably works best with genre fiction (especially speculative fiction), which tends to have a devoted following willing to take the time to scan/convert/upload relatively obscure stuff for completion's sake and also have the technical know-how to begin with.
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Old 11-14-2010, 05:13 AM   #3
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Michele Hauf mentioned that she pay a firm to scan her books for 30 dollar a book. The result wasn't perfect,but she got two files. One PDF, and One Word file. Since she got a word copy, she can edit them. She takes time to edit them, since she has grown as a writer since they were first released 10-15 years ago.

Last edited by mikaelalind; 11-14-2010 at 05:17 AM.
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Old 11-14-2010, 05:17 AM   #4
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I guess renegotiating the digital rights may also be a major issue.
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Old 11-14-2010, 05:53 AM   #5
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I've also noticed that once a print book actually becomes available electronically it can be a nightmare with geo-restrictions.
Take the author Guy Gavriel Kay for example and his book Tigana. This book is available in the Kindle format but only if you live in Canada

I'm having a real hard time thinking that the author decided that the e-book should only be available to Canada, so who's to blame?

When are the authors/agencies/publishers going to learn that internet has no boundaries. It doesn't work the same way selling an e-book as you would sell a physical print book. This is something that the publishers are having a real hard time grasping or they are just plain ignorant with no wish for flexibility.
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Old 11-14-2010, 08:01 AM   #6
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As others have pointed out already, it's a combination of clearing the rights and financial incentives.

One thing to keep in mind is that as more people transition to ebooks, the incentives to release an ebook version will grow. Ebooks are still only 7-10% of the US market, and probably a tiny slice of the international market -- so there is 1/10th or less of the incentive to put any effort into the back catalog right now.
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Old 11-14-2010, 08:17 AM   #7
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Harper Collins recently revealed to me (through one of its authors) that they farm out the process of scanning and OCR'ing backlist titles at a minimum cost per book. Apparently the cost of prepping the copy doesn't include proofing the resultant copy, which HC releases onto the market with not even a cursory check. Comments I've seen elsewhere lead me to believe that this is the norm with publishers.

The impression I get from this is that publishers like HC don't care about the content at all, just the impression that they are putting it out there for whatever rubes want to pay for it. (They are also clearly applying the bulk of their efforts to new books, which would be expected to earn them more profit per book in the shorter term.) Think of it like a used book market that publishers really aren't interested in entering.
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Old 11-14-2010, 09:15 AM   #8
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So the ones this back laid policy hurts is the authors since the publishers seem to have very little interest/incentive in working on the backlist.

It's even worse when a book gets available and you find it's sloppy formatted and full of OCR-errors.
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Old 11-14-2010, 10:16 AM   #9
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Poor quality ebooks reflect negatively on the authors as well. Maybe they wish to wait until they have the ability to edit them before releasing.

Also, publishers may want both print and digital rights at the same time and that may not be possible. I would imagine a digital only contract would not be to the author's financial advantage.
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Old 11-14-2010, 11:18 AM   #10
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I'm in the camp that doesn't understand why there isn't more focus on backlist.

Provided the rights have been assembled -- by the author, by the agent or by the print publisher -- it is a relatively small investment to have the title scanned, professionally proof-read against the original, a new cover created and the book inserted into the re-release schedule. If there are multiple titles in the author backlist, it's trivial to create some sort of theme and use that for some rudimentary promotion.

It's not free to do the above, but it's certainly small change. Provided the material has intrinsic worth, having the ebook for sale will generate more revenue than being out of print. And, this is a one-time conversion which holds its value until the title slides into public domain, potentially several decades from now.
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Old 11-14-2010, 12:50 PM   #11
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The biggest problem is getting digital rights for a reasonable amount (Estates seem to think in numbers many times the the going rate).

They forget that 500% of Nothing is still nothing and hold out for more
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Old 11-14-2010, 04:56 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by Steven Lyle Jordan View Post
Harper Collins recently revealed to me (through one of its authors) that they farm out the process of scanning and OCR'ing backlist titles at a minimum cost per book. Apparently the cost of prepping the copy doesn't include proofing the resultant copy, which HC releases onto the market with not even a cursory check. Comments I've seen elsewhere lead me to believe that this is the norm with publishers.
The myth that pirate releases are worse quality than commercial product still seems safe though, based on how often I see it repeated in posts.
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Old 11-14-2010, 05:22 PM   #13
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The biggest problem is getting digital rights for a reasonable amount (Estates seem to think in numbers many times the the going rate).

They forget that 500% of Nothing is still nothing and hold out for more
And meanwhile pirated copies are out there, and how likely is it that a reader who obtains such a copy will decide to "upgrade" to a legit copy later? The longer it takes to get the legit copies out, the smaller the potential sales pool.
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Old 11-15-2010, 11:10 AM   #14
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The myth that pirate releases are worse quality than commercial product still seems safe though, based on how often I see it repeated in posts.
Mmm, I've seen badly formated books from the darknet. i to try a few copies to get someting decent.
But then, i've seen some pretty bad paid for books to.
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Old 11-16-2010, 12:49 PM   #15
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Let's also remember that there are a lot of backlist books: Publishers generally only concentrate on a few titles in a month, whereas they may have thousands of backlisted titles to go through; they simply don't have the manpower to do the job, which is why they subcontract it out as much as they can.

But you can't expect a subcontracting system of scan-and-OCR to be able to go through more than a half-dozen to a dozen books in a month, with any quality.

Any way you do it, you're going to see a huge bottleneck in getting backlist books published as ebooks. Maybe, someday, a radical method of allowing readers/peers to join the process, and speed up certain aspects of it, will happen. But the present publishing process simply won't allow for it.
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