How long copyright terms make art disappear

Jill sez, "Exciting study samples new books for sale by Amazon and asks: Why are there three times more books initially published in the 1850’s than books from the 1950’s? The chart on page 15 is eye-popping, showing graphically decade-by-decade how many more new books initially published before 1923 are currently available than those published… READ THE REST

There’s an interesting counterpoint to this graph.

These books in question are published by a handful of publishers that print en masse anything digitised pre-1923. I consider them a form of publishing spam, sort of like the publishing outfits that concoct books out of Wikipedia articles and other public domain texts.

Also to note: The books are printed on demand when someone happens to order them. So they are pure records, with ISBNs slapped on and shoved into Amazon’s and other databases programmatically.

I noticed these guys when Barnes and Noble’s online inventory exploded from a million or two to over 10 million in a matter of weeks a couple of years ago.

Heady days for print in its twilight.


What i find more interesting is the giant spike in the 2000’s on that graph. What caused that sudden huge jump?

At least you have the option to get a print copy of those old works though. For something that was printed in the 1930s and has been out of print for 80 years, well, you’re SOL because who the hell can find the original rights to it anymore or has an interest in reprinting it for the half dozen or so people who would buy it?

If only book publishers didn’t treat digital distribution like a redheaded stepchild with ebola we could be living in a much richer world.


Probably the invention of those automated services that convert Wikipedia articles and other such online resources into “books”, also printed on demand.

Not even just that I’d wager. Look at Lulu, Createspace, and other post-internet vanity publishing outfits.

I was assuming the proliferation of current titles is a given. It is that long period between when a title is no longer current/popular and when the copyright expires that availability becomes a serious issue.


Maybe it’s because other forms of entertainment flooded the scene in the 1950’s.
(Cars, Bowling Allys, Drive In Movies, Movies, and television—who needs books?)
Authors are not infinite supply—they work on movies, TVs, radio shows; and do that instead of writing new books.

The spike in 2000’s probably says more about availability of Ibook readers and DL content for the readers at home more than it does about copyright; and volumes about Authors that 'self publish" electronically for iBooks.

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Without a breakdown by country of authorship, the study is fundamentally flawed.

The US wasn’t honoring foreign copyright at all until 1891 and there wasn’t practicable recognition until the 1909 Act. Thus, there was a precipitous fall in the number of public domain books available after 1910. Before that point, every new foreign works would fall into the US public domain immediately.

With the change in the law, the notion of “classic” literature also changed. Publishing houses made up “classics” so that they could continue cashing in on relatively new international works that fell into the public domain prior to the new Act. Many of the works that we still think of as being canonical just happen to fall into that category. This marketing ploy has left an indelible mark on American readership. We still read–and sell–quite a lot of Dickens.

In other words, the paper includes within its statistics a large number of works that were effectively never subject to copyright protection, to the extent that their proprietors never received any compensation whatsoever. They had the market advantage of being cheaper than their domestic contemporaries and subsequent new works. Their production never waned; a substitute wouldn’t be marketable. They inhibited the production of new work. The comparison of these to a copyrighted work is apples to oranges. The simple solution is to exclude these outliers entirely and look only at US authored works.

The basic premise for the paper is great; there ought to be more empirical study of these issues. The execution could use some work though. Ultimately, it’s best not to cite to “Everything You Wanted to Know About Pre-1909 Copyright But Were Too Lazy to Look Up.” It hurts one’s credibility.


Teen Paranormal Romance.

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Team Jacob 4 life!

Team Alucard. :slight_smile:

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