In a comment on my recent post, Looking at Our Niche Comprehensively, William wrote the following:
And he and I actually had the same idea — I think creating and prioritizing a list of out-of-print titles is a great idea. Last night, I was trying to come up with some ways to do so that goes beyond just having people post comments and/or e-mail Kent (both of which would be fine, but some sort of running polling system would be cool).
William is right that putting together such a list would be very useful. And since this is a part of my publishing program, I thought I should respond in a little more detail and point out some difficulties.
There are some clear advantages to compiling such a list.
A list lets publishers know what titles should be done. No publisher knows whether publishing a public domain title is likely to be worth it or not, so it doesn’t make sense to spend time and effort searching for public domain titles and trying to figure out which title to publish first. So providing the list makes it more likely that these works will be published.
In a sense, publishers are already finding LDS public domain titles, at least in a haphazard way. Amazon shows two different recent editions of Added Upon, for example. I think I’ve seen a dozen more public domain titles that have been published. [Though I don’t think that these publishers realize that this has interest in the LDS market or how to reach it — I don’t see any marketing efforts to church members for these titles.]
A list also signals the publisher which works are likely to draw sales. At least those that proposed and promoted getting a title on the list are probably interested in purchasing it.
Such a list can also help increase knowledge of LDS literature. The titles that appear on such a list are likely to be those that are studied.
But, I do think there are some problems with coming up with a list like this.
First, no one is likely to pay much for creating such a list, or pay for the information. As I observed above, when you are hoping to make a profit by selling just a few copies of each title, you can’t afford to invest a lot of time into discovering which title to print. As a result, I don’t think there’s much motivation out there to create and prioritize the list. A haphazard approach of just publishing each title as it is discovered is cheaper.
Second, creating and prioritizing a list requires knowledge of the titles themselves. I don’t know ANYONE who has much knowledge of the titles available in the public domain. There are many people with knowledge of more recent titles, those covered by copyright. And it would be interesting to get a list of recent titles. But I don’t think we’re likely to get much information on older titles — say those by Ora Pate Stewart, Julia McDonald, Howard Driggs or anyone except maybe Nephi Anderson.
We are fortunate that we have a list of titles, BYU’s Mormon Literature Database. But this database isn’t complete (I’ve suggested several titles 3 or 4 times in the past year, and they haven’t yet been added. And items like the stories in the Young Women’s Journal, and other early Church publications haven’t yet been indexed, and don’t show up in the database). And it certainly doesn’t have information that would help anyone make an informed decision as to which titles should get priority over others.
In fact, most of these public domain titles haven’t been read by nearly anyone in the last decade or more, so how can anyone judge whether or not they should be put back in print? Even among academics, Mormon literature isn’t studies much, so these works don’t get much of a reading.
Third, I’m not sure how many people will feel about participating in such a project. Its likely that the work in this project would go unrewarded — except for perhaps the pleasure of seeing a title recommended show up in print.
But despite these significant hurdles, I think that the idea is important and worth pursuing. The problems I’ve raised can probably be overcome. We could perhaps find people to read some of the public domain titles and evaluate them. I think it is possible to find software that would allow members to rank the titles on a list.
What do you think?