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My First Rant: Out of Print Books

By Galen Strickland

First posted on January 12, 2001
Updated on December 1, 2002

[Addendum; August 3, 2010] It's been over nine years since I originally posted this, and since I have been busy updating all the pages to the new design I have not had the time to go through the article to see what changes might need to be made. The point of this rant was to vent my frustration over the percentage of books that were out of print at the time. I am sure some things have changed; there are probably some that were out of print then that are available now, but the opposite is also probably true. So if you do read this and think, "Wait a minute, I saw that book at B&N yesterday, or amazon has a new edition available..." well, I'll have to double check this article when I have more time. For now I'm just copying and pasting as is.

What has prompted this particular rant is my experience of going through the amazon.com pages to create direct links for the many books and films that I have mentioned in the articles and reviews. All I can say is that I hope all of you have good used bookstores near you, or some other access to inexpensive copies of anything you would like to add to your collection. It is amazing how much classic SF is out of print, or for one reason or another not available through amazon. I have never visited the Barnes&Noble site, but I would assume the situation there is similar. If a book is out of print, it's out of print, no matter the source. I have been getting the numbers for paperback copies wherever possible, but even some of those prices are outrageous. Not that most of the books aren't worth it, and looked at in the right perspective they are a very reasonable investment for hours of enjoyment. But right now I have a limited budget for books, and I have no idea what everyone else's situation is. And if I did have a lot of money, I think I would seriously consider going into the publishing business in order to get a lot of these books back into circulation.

Is it any wonder that a lot of readers new to the genre have a hard time understanding the significance of the Golden Age writers (and even some more recent ones as well) since so many of those books are unavailable? And I've just barely scratched the surface with the few articles I have already posted. I fear my frustrations will only grow as I begin to introduce others whose work is also out of print. I have not yet completed my search. One thing that it was hard for even me to believe is that so far I have mentioned about 480 separate book titles.

[12/1/02 Update: Now it is a total of 996 titles mentioned, with 488 of them out of print]

Don't forget that in addition to the individual author entries I also have done the SF Primer and Where to Start articles. Those were the first things I wrote when I began posting on the Prodigy Books & Writing community (no longer existant), and they were intended to be introductory pieces for those not as familiar with SF as most of you. So of course those listed many older titles, the majority of which are now out of print. Also, since this article was first uploaded I have added the Hugo-Nebula awards pages.

Asimov was fairly well represented on amazon as you might expect (with 1,143 individual entries) although there were many duplications of titles. But only a little more than a 100 of those were available, the others being out of print, on back-order, or not yet published. Of those 100+ that were available the majority were either anthologies he co-edited (most having none of his stories) or non-fiction works. Of the 20 separate titles I mentioned in my two Asimov articles, nine of those are not available, including The Complete Robot and Foundation and Earth, believe or not! I hope you Asimov fans don't resent this, but the author who has the highest ratio of books still in print is Heinlein. Only 7 of the 40 titles of his I mentioned are not available from amazon, but one of those - Beyond This Horizon - is due to be reprinted in the near future [That has already happened - CLICK HERE to view it] and another - The Past Through Tomorrow - is available exclusively through the Science Fiction Book Club. One thing I was very surprised at was only 8 out of 38 titles by Ellison are available, and none of those by Brian Aldiss. I was not surprised, but upset, that none of the books by Edgar Pangborn were listed, only one by Tiptree, and two by Cordwainer Smith. Even though I have not yet written an article on Arthur C. Clarke, [I have now, hence the link on his name] I have mentioned 5 titles by him, but only 2 of those were there. It is the same for several others who have received brief comments: only 2 out of 6 by Philip José Farmer, 1 out of 5 for Frederik Pohl, 1 out of 7 for Robert Silverberg (and that is just an anthology he edited), and 0 for 6 on Norman Spinrad.

[NOTE: Pohl, Silverberg and Spinrad pages are new since the original article, so more of their titles have been mentioned - most of them are OOP of course, but there have been several new editions of Aldiss titles recently, and one for Pangborn.]

One bit of bright news however, is that it seems Gene Wolfe is popular - with the publishers at least. Of 28 of his books they had 18, with an additional short story collection that I had not mentioned. I came across a few other new things by various authors which I will insert into their articles as soon as I can. I will also be listing every single title with a link on the amazon page, so it will be easy to look up any book you may have an interest in without trying to find it in the article in which it was mentioned. But they will also be linked within the article itself.

I don't have any illusions that this association with amazon is going to amount to anything, and I certainly don't want to give the impression I am forcing this on anyone. But there is a another bright side to this dark cloud. Even if you think some of the prices are a little steep, they allow people to try to sell used copies of books through their site as well. If you are like me, you will be reluctant to shell out your hard-earned dollars on authors you've never sampled before. So if you've never read Philip K. Dick and $9.60 (plus shipping) is more than you are willing to pay for a new trade-paperback copy of The Man in the High Castle, then how about a used one for $7.00. Just look for the "This item is also available to buy from Amazon Marketplace Sellers" banner just below the book's image. There are many others where the savings on the used copy is even more significant. Of course, the availibility of used copies will fluctuate. If you are really interested in any used title you see, it would be best to go ahead and buy it then, since it might not be there the next time you check. Amazon also offers an out-of-print search service, so you may want to check out that possibility. Also, if you have a lot of used books yourself that you no longer want or have the space for, you can try to sell them through Amazon. Just click on the "Sell yours here" button. But if you're smart you won't make the mistake I did in the past. No matter how cramped you are for space, hold on to those books! You may never see any of those titles again, and if an when you do you may not be able to afford them.

One other thing. The prices on paperbacks vary considerably. What is referred to as a "mass-market paperback" is your typical size, approximately 4-3/8" X 6-7/8" - but what they call just a "paperback" can vary quite a bit in size, and is usually referred to by those in the publishing world as a "trade paperback." Any paperback title around $ 10.00 and up will be of that type. All of that information is available just below the Marketplace banner. At this time I am not going to the trouble to create a link for any title that is currently unavailable, but I may do so at a later time. For now, if there is any title you are interested in that is listed as out of print, it will usually have a message like this:

THIS TITLE IS CURRENTLY NOT AVAILABLE. The publisher is out of stock. If you would like to purchase this title, we recommend that you occasionally check this page to see if it's been reprinted.

Okay, that's enough on Amazon for now. I had also been contemplating becoming an associate of the The Science Fiction Book Club, but there are several factors that helped me to decide not to do that at this time. Unfortunately, SFBC is only available to residents of the U. S. and Canada. At least that is the information I get both from their website and all the mailings I get from them. Besides, there are times when I feel about the club much as I do about the SciFiChannel. On the one hand they do occasionally offer reprints of classic titles, but apparently they do not print a large quantity, because they also become unavailable after what I feel is a short period of time. For instance, at the current time there are no Ellison titles available, whereas in my collection I have six of his books that I got from them, including his original version of The City on the Edge of Forever script and his still unproduced screenplay for Asimov's I, Robot. They have recently offered again Niven's Ringworld (but that's it for him), Blish's Cities in Flight collection (ditto), and Clarke's Childhood's End. But nothing by Aldiss, Bradbury, Dick, Pohl, Tiptree, or Varley, and the only Silverberg title is again an anthology he edited. They currently offer only 4 titles each by Asimov, Clarke, and Heinlein - and they are the backbone of SF! At least one of the Asimov titles is The Complete Robot, not available on Amazon, and two others are omnibus editions, The Foundation Trilogy and Robots and Murder (The Caves of Steel, The Naked Sun, and The Robots of Dawn).

[NOTE: Since the original article quite a bit of this situation with the SFBC has changed. The Complete Robot and Robots and Murder are no longer available, but they've added The Complete Adventures of Lucky Starr. They now have four titles by Bradbury, and their are five from Heinlein with another due in a couple of months.]

Of course there are tons of fantasy titles, as well as many Star Wars and Star Trek tie-ins. And the same situation seems to be prevalent at all the new bookstores I've visited recently, not to buy of course, but just to see what is available. I am extremely lucky here in Austin. There are 6 different used bookstores I visit frequently, but lately they have been wising up. Whereas in the past everything was sold at half the cover price, they now have a minimum price of 98¢ on paperbacks, which is considerably higher than the cover price of most everything printed before the mid-60's. And the newer titles are pretty high even at half-price. So I have been holding off buying any newer titles, even used, until my financial situation improves. But 98¢ is an excellent price for an older title at least if it is in relatively good condition, and I am partial to the older editions anyway. They make you appreciate the history of the genre more, and the smell - gotta love it! And lately I have been seeing a lot of older stuff, so it seems others have had the same space problem I have been faced with in the past, and are unloading their shelves. I know they are not selling them for the money, since these stores make their profit by paying as little as they can for their stock. Slowly but surely I am trying to build up my collection again, regaining titles I once had, and adding several others to the list as well. Now if I could just magically produce more time in which to read them!

[Again, another change. I have moved back to my hometown of Waco, which at the current time has only two used bookstores. One of them has a minimum price on all SF of 97¢ (even if its from the 60s with a cover price of 35¢), and the other will sometimes have a minimun price sticker on the book of $1.00 if it is in good condition, or possibly sell it at cover price if it isn't.]

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