What to do with an out of print book?

Trying to figure out what to do with my out-of-print first book. Kindle Ebook? Or just give it away on a different platform? Some of you out there may find/have found yourself in the same situation.

My dissertation was published in 1990 as Keeping Watch: A History of American Time. It was initially published by Viking Penguin, and sold about 8000 copies–pretty good for an academic book. Penguin did a paperback but only kept it in print for a year. The Smithsonian press did an edition after that and kept it in print for about ten years.  It’s been out of print for a while now.

Since then I’ve gotten a Kindle–in large part because we’re out of space for books. I like the Kindle a lot. It’s very easy to read with it, especially lighter fiction. Academic reading is a little harder and takes some getting used to, but most of the time, I’m disappointed if there isn’t a Kindle edition.

Since copyright for Keeping Watch reverted to me, I thought I’d just publish it myself as an electronic edition of some sort.

Advantages, Kindle

  • I’d make some royalties–the royalty rate is 70%. That’s so much better than the royalty rate I got on the paper book that it’s laughable. It’s not just greed, there’s kind of a sense of justice to that royalty rate. I think I might have gotten 8% on the hardcover of Keeping Watch–whatever the standard rate was at the time. Most of the rest went to posh offices in NYC and editors and agents buying each other lunch.
  • Amazon’s excellent software–the Amazon website is extremely good at “recommending” titles.  The book already has a “presence” on Amazon from the paper editions.[1. although not really much of one–the hardcover can apparently be had used for as little as 44 cents! This would seem to render the whole question “academic.”] It’s much more likely to find readers through Amazon than any other way. Google Books, for example, links you to Amazon.

Disadvantages, Kindle

  • Amazon’s proprietary format–it violates the spirit of information sharing and the ancient and noble traditions of book-lending.
  • Why charge for it at all?

That’s obviously the tricky question. I feel like it’s a very good book: I’m  still proud of it. Surely labor should be compensated? On the other hand, I’ve been compensated for it: it sold reasonably well, I got tenure from it. It’s knowledge that should be available. “Information wants to be free:” why should  information settle for being cheap?

What would the alternative format be? I detest .pdfs. They’re slow, cumbersome, and the damn Adobe software is constantly asking me to update. I’ve never liked the pdf format: it’s like a deliberate evasion of the advantages of digital. So that’s out. Putting it on the web as straight HTML? It’s hard to read a long book in HTML on a browser: it’s inelegant. Epub is ok, but there’s the audience question. I’d like the book to be read as much as possible.

The late Roy Rosenzweig used to point out that this was every author’s fantasy, that a large audience waited breathlessly for the book. This accounted for the colonic titles: Breathless Anticipation: The Election of Benjamin Harrison, 1888. How much of an audience is there for 20 year old book on standard time?

I’m not really sure how to make “full view” available on Google Books. I’m not sure it’s possible, since as I understand it, the libraries from which it was digitized are reluctant to grant full access.

I went and learned how to prepare it for the Kindle. Basically, the best approach is to take whatever digital form you have it in–in my case, I have the uncorrected chapters sent to the publisher before copy editing–and convert it to HTML, then strip out as much of the non essential code as possible. My files were in MS Word. I was able to most of the non essential Microsoft code. I added the images, added a hyperlinked table of contents, and saved the file and the images as a .zip archive.

Amazon then asks you to add metadata–other editions, subject classifications–before you upload the .zip file. You upload it, preview it, then you can set the pricing. I’ve gotten to “set the pricing” and I’m not sure I want to take the final step of publishing it to Amazon.

All thoughts welcome.


  • I think it’d be great to publish the book through WordPress, and install CommentPress and Anthologize on the site.

    With Anthologize, you could publish the book in a variety of formats: PDF, ePUB, TEI, HTML. I think you’re right to weight advantages/disadvantages of different formats. It seems the most important step is getting it into a format that can be translated into other formats. That way, you can let readers decide which format they’d prefer. Anthologize can help with some of this.

    With CommentPress, you could open up conversation about the book. CommentPress allows for per-paragraph commenting. It would be interesting, I think, to not only share the work, but also encourage discussion around it as well.

    I’ve been wanting to do a set-up like this for Roy and Dan’s book.

  • With Com­ment­Press, you could open up con­ver­sa­tion about the book. Com­ment­Press allows for per-paragraph com­ment­ing. It would be inter­est­ing, I think, to not only share the work, but also encour­age dis­cus­sion around it as well.

  • Where did you hear that about GBooks libraries “not wanting” to make full-text available? It’s quite untrue. In fact, several libraries are going to heroic lengths to make more GBooks full-text available by clearing copyright on them: http://www.libraryjournal.com/lj/home/887388-264/hathitrusts_copyright_detectives.html.csp

    If you are interested in putting a Creative Commons license on your book through GBooks, see http://booksearch.blogspot.com/2009/08/bringing-power-of-creative-commons-to.html . Or you can join Google’s publisher program to make royalty-bearing arrangements: http://books.google.com/googlebooks/publishers.html

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Tom Scheinfeldt, Mike O'Malley. Mike O'Malley said: What to do with an out-of print book? Kndle ed? Epub? http://theaporetic.com/?p=675. Thoughts welcome […]

  • The correct answer, of course, is all of the above, since it’s so easy to transform the book from format to format (at least once you have it in something like ePub). Serve it in all formats, and have paid and free versions if you like (say, by giving away the PDF but charging for the convenience of the Kindle version). With HTML5, it will also be possible to have a web version that will work on most modern devices and look nice (see, e.g., what http://booki.sh/ can do with an ePub file).

  • Wow–lots of options. I’ve been schooled! Thank you

  • […] Mike O’Malley asks readers for advice on getting his now-out of print first book back into e-print and gets multiple options–Kindle, Google Books, Anthologize/CommentPress, free PDF. Dan Cohen advises “The correct answer, of course, is all of the above”, including a web version like booki.sh. This entry was posted in Asides and tagged booki.sh. Bookmark the permalink. ← Donations for web content […]

  • marie therese wrote:

    this made me go back and look at my copy- nothing beats the real thing, particulary when it is full of notes (for some pretentious reason, some in French!)and underlining as mine is. i seem to have been particularly fascinated by the chapter on movies. in all seriousness, that book made a real impression. oh how proud i was to have a professor with a real book that was readable!!

  • Comments in french! I’m flattered!

  • If you’re concerned about use by posterity, I’d encourage you to make a (non-DRM’d) EPUB version available; barring changes in laws, should devices authorized to read the Kindle version stop being available it would be illegal to convert it to another format.

    (Disclosure: I also have selfish reasons for wanting EPUB: I own a Sony Reader, am not part of the Amazon e-book ecosystem, but would love to read that book. I would pay up to about $10 or so for it if you made it available through Google’s bookstore, assuming I could go through all the bother of signing up for it.)

    But as to which way to go, consider it in the context of the reasons for which copyright law was created. Would the money you get from selling this encourage you to create more useful works than you would otherwise? If so, it’s probably to the benefit of the public (as well as possibly you) to sell it. If not, the greater public benefit is achieved by giving it away, particularly under a fairly liberal license (e.g., a creative commons license).

    Being a historian, and having mentioned The Real Book, I suspect you may already know a lot about copyright law, its history and its aims. If not (or even if so, but you’ve not read it), William Patry’s Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars is well worth reading.

  • Any decisions yet on this front? I have to admit, though, that my ereader has yet to convert me. I’ll still most likely (happily) end up with a print version.

Leave a Reply

Your email is never shared.Required fields are marked *