The used book search engine BookFinder released their annual list of most searched for out-of-print books yesterday, and it raises some rather interesting questions concerning what exactly qualifies a book as out of print.
The list includes many of the same titles as last year's list, and the one before that, but this year BookFinder chose to also point out that the list includes titles which can be found as ebooks or as print-on-demand books.
Thus, some of the titles, including such works as the Harvard Classics collection and Richard Gale's On the Nature and Existence of God, are technically not out of print. Both titles are available as free ebooks or as a POD title, and you can probably also find the Harvard Collection as separate print titles should you want them.
So why are these titles on the list? Well, BookFinder has a rather antiquated definition of in print:
For our report we do not consider a title currently published as an eBook or POD to be in print. We felt that In Print meant printed on a page, with ink; so while a book only available electronically may be handy, it did not fit our criteria. We also decided some years ago that we would not consider POD published titles to be In Print. This was less to do with the quality of printing and binding (some PODs are indistinguishable from basic trade printings) but more that The BookFinder.com Report is meant to highlight books which traversed the entire traditional book lifecycle from life to death, and yet are once again sought after for one reason or another.
Given how the publishing industry has embraced ebooks and the degree to which it has embraced print-on-demand, I would bet that BookFinder will find little support their interpretation.
There's no need to remind you of the prevalence of ebooks, but consider how many publishers have partnered with On Demand Books, for example. You can use their Espresso Book Machine to print books from Penguin, HarperCollins, and titles distributed via Lightning Source. And those are just the publishers that have signed deals with ODB; there are probably several more that are using POD as part of their internal production process so they can minimize the number of copies kept in their warehouses.
And what about the digital-first or digital-only imprints launched by both indie and major publishers? Are titles from those imprints technically out of print (or never in print, for that matter) simply because they are only available digitally?
I would say that they are in print. Yes, that tortures the definition of "in print", but I believe the concept could use a good thrashing out.
What do you think?