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Why doesn't everyone publish public domain books?

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Are there any restrictions in publishing of material with expired copyrights?

For example, Oliver Twist is a famous story by Charles Dickens, and people still buy the book. I would think that the cost of publishing (especially online instead of hardcopy) is low compared to the potential profits that can be earned.

If so, what is stopping anyone and everyone from publishing the book to rake in profits?

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This post was sourced from https://writers.stackexchange.com/q/10179. It is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

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3 answers

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"...the cost of publishing (especially online instead of hardcopy) is low compared to the potential profits that can be earned."

For publishing online, the costs are low. But anyone can do it. That is why you can buy the collected works of Dickens, nicely formatted for whatever ereader you use, and with an interactive table of contents, for 99 cents. Or get the individual works free from Project Gutenberg (although they will hit you up for a donation).

For hard copy, the costs are not low. Try the following experiment: Figure out how long Oliver Twist would be, formatted as a book, and then price the cost of printing it using Staples.com or OfficeMax.com or someplace like that. You will find a cost of 5 to 10 dollars, depending on your options. And that's not even a real book binding!

So, either way, it's not easy to "rake in profits" from out-of-copyright books.

[Eerie coincidence: I started reading Oliver Twist this morning. (On a Kindle.)]

This post was sourced from https://writers.stackexchange.com/a/10186. It is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

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On the contrary.

The copyright/royalties costs are relatively minor comparing to per-unit cost, marketing cost, distribution costs (per shop/point of sales), retailer's cut, taxes - generally the author rarely sees more than 20% of the retail price, often less than 10%, at least in traditional distribution.

And the books, being old, are available from the library for free, are often found in personal libraries and second-hand sale (and sites like Project Gutenberg), meaning the demand is quite low. Trying to break even on these costs with such a competition may be difficult. Why would I buy a hardback Olivier Twist for $20, when I can have the e-book version for free, legally and without need to walk to the store?

With new, copyrighted books, in exchange for the royalties the publisher gets exclusivity: nobody can sell the same book cheaper, nobody can legally put it on the web for free, the libraries still have to purchase it (and then, during the "reaping the profits" period of a year, there will be maybe 10 or so buyers "lost" per a library copy - and if the book was good these may still buy a personal copy!) - essentially, copyright protects the interest of the publisher more than the interest of the author!

This post was sourced from https://writers.stackexchange.com/a/10181. It is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

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The very purpose of copyright, at least for publishers (then called stationers - early 18th century), was precisely to get a monopoly on the publishing of a work, so as to improve their return on investment. You do not have that monopoly with the public domain.

That being said, it is not completely true that public domain is uninteresting for them, depending on the competitiveness of the market structures. Foreign books were not protected by copyright in the USA for most of the nineteenth century. Mark Twain fought valiantly to defend the copyrights of British authors ... so that they would not be unfair competition to his own works.

It is also true that big publishers still publish a lot of public domain books, but only for very popular works which they are sure to sell. Small publishing houses may publish more specialized public domain works for specific audience. It is a very honorable activity, but they do not get very rich.

But in the digital world, there is no longer that much investment to produce copies of a book (copyright is about making copies). Publishers were acting pretty much as banker who invested money up front to produce a number of copies (so that each copy would not be too expensive), and recouped the investment as copies were being sold, if they were. This is no longer needed in the digital world, and publishers have lost their main usefulness. They had other roles that can still be provided as service, not as an industry controling the whole business of textual publishing.

I suspect publishers will cease to exist as we know them in a not very distant future. Not needed economically.

This post was sourced from https://writers.stackexchange.com/a/10314. It is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

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