It’s obvious: there’s no money in it. If you print books that no one wants then you have to pay to buy them back, to have them pulped and recycled so you can make them into more books that people do want. Publishing is an expensive business and profit is a key motivator. It’s why most authors need to keep writing new books as the only way to remain profitable is to keep writing new material as eventually the publishers will stop printing the old stuff.
eBooks are changing this to a degree, but even there I imagine there is pruning of the archives. You could let people buy any book that has ever been converted to an eBook format, but doing so means that they might fail to find the expensive new ones you want to promote.
Certainly there’s been little effort to re-publish many of the books that are now out of print in eBook format – why expend effort on a market you consider dead?
And this, finally, brings me to my point. There are books I read long ago that I have wanted to re-read at certain points in my life. As a teenager, I devoured my local library to the point I had to buy reams of my own books to keep myself in books. Amazon was a saving grace for me, as it meant that I could buy books I didn’t even know existed. But now, fifteen years later, there are books I once read from the library that I can’t find any more. At least not new. Some of them I’ve managed to buy used copies of, but I’m sure there are others I haven’t found at all, and even getting complete sets of some of the ones I have found has been an arduous task.
It isn’t even like the authors I have been seeking out are of little consequence. If anyone can say that Isaac Asimov and Timothy Zahn are of little consequence to science-fiction then they’re missing out on some great material. Collecting the Conquerors’ trilogy by Timothy Zahn was a bit tricky, but I managed it – by no means his most famous work but I always liked it. Asimov’s Foundation series also presented a challenge and that’s despite films and television series supposedly being in the works.
There is little profit in reprinting old books so companies don’t do it, meaning that you’re left with the choice of the new up-and-coming books while your half-finished collections are sometimes destined to go unfinished. But it doesn’t stop me wishing that this wasn’t the case – that I could reach back and pluck new copies of any book I wanted out of its time and into mine so I could share them with others who’d enjoy them as well.
If eBooks have one fault beyond all others, it’s that you can’t loan them to other people.