One of my least favorite tasks is attending the meeting where we decide which books will go out of print this year. Every book is a friend and companion. Some are even like children. We want them all to do well in life and find success. Occasionally that does not happen.
There are many reasons a book might go out of print. Perhaps there is too much competition from similar books already in print. Perhaps the author is not well-known enough to gain a foothold in the market. Perhaps the title was wrong or it was priced too high or the cover didn’t do the job. Perhaps the book itself wasn’t strong enough. Perhaps it came out too late and missed a peak of interest. Perhaps it was a mismatch of publisher and content. Perhaps we reached the audience for the book, but it was just a more limited audience than we thought. Perhaps it was a combination of several of these.
InterVarsity Press had a production manager years back who used to say, “Given everything that can go wrong in printing, it’s amazing the ink ever hits the page.” It can be true of publishing too.
But lest my melancholy get the better of me, there is some good news. Fortunately, we are having to send books out of print less and less. There are several reasons for this. First, print-on-demand (POD) printing allows books to be stored electronically and then printed one at a time, on demand, as each order comes in. No more expensive inventory needed. Second, because of POD, traditional printers are finding ways to print fewer and fewer books at a time. We can now get economical printings of 750, 500, even 250 at a time. Third, InterVarsity Press built a new warehouse addition this past year. So we now have the space to keep these books. Yes, that’s expensive, but the books are worth it.
Even with all this, sometimes a book still goes out of print. But with internet booksellers selling used copies of out-of-print books, now they can continue in circulation and be readily accessible for many years to come. Not great news, perhaps, but good news.