Ever wonder what out-of-print really means, or why some books are available for KCLS to buy after they are first published while others aren’t? Selection Librarian Brenna helped us demystify the answers to these frequently asked questions!
Publishers and movie studios decide what stays in print. Books and movies are typically assigned a “print run” by their publishers. Once those print runs sell out, the publisher may or may not decide to release another print. They typically base their decisions upon sales and demand data. Basically, popularity determines if something stays in print. Sometimes, if there is enough demand over time, a publisher may choose to reprint or issue a new edition of a title that has gone out-of-print.
A change in the circumstances of the author or the topic can also prompt a reprint, and rights play a part. Publishers and authors must agree to terms and may prevent each other
from reprinting items or limit how they make a title available, depending on their contracts.
When items are old enough (like Shakespeare), they go “out of copyright” and become the public
domain. That’s why we see so many versions of classics. That timeframe keeps changing due to
companies and estates who don’t want their material to ever go “out of copyright.” The general
rule now is 70 years after the death of the author and 95 to 120 years after creation/publication for works of corporate authorship.
Out-of-print, for our purposes, means no longer available new on the retail market. Many out-of-print items remain available in the used or secondhand market, but as item quality varies greatly and the ability to fulfill more demand is limited, our current practice is to only buy new materials for library patrons to borrow. Print-on-demand has become a new option in recent years, but it is still an expensive process and most often applies to vanity or self-published items. A few movie studios have made their classics print-on-demand, although they sometimes use a cheaper DVD R format. Given the rise of self-publishing, we will likely see changes in printing and copyright in the coming years.
In the meantime, we’ll continue to do our best by our patrons and replace popular titles when possible!