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Columns > David Steinberg - Some Are Mathematicians

Published: 2013/06/26
by David Steinberg

The End of Out of Print

I’m a science fiction fan and have been so for decades. As a result I’ve discovered many interesting books and collections over the years. Issac Asimov edited some amazing short story collections, all of which centered around various themes (e.g. Space Mail , a series of stories that all are written in letter format). They’re great material and I would love to have them on my iPad, but I can’t. They’re not available in any sort of ePub form.

You’d think a forward thinking genre like Science Fiction would have their classics available. After all, who would be more likely to have a technological solution to reading that people who read about the future? Alas, there are huge holes in the catalog.

If there is any interest in the topic, these will end up getting filled. DC Comics doesn’t sell digital copies of their back catalog, but there are bit torrents that have every comic they’ve ever made. Nothing drives people to the download sites quicker than to make that the only way to obtain something. Scarcity of media isn’t a relevant concept anymore. If it can be seen or listened to, it can be ripped and uploaded. It takes more work to wait for the sell by date of an album to listen to it than to just grab it ahead of time, and then it’s a lot harder to get people to buy the material when they already own it.

It used to make sense for books and albums to go out of print. When you have to guess how many copies would be needed and then print and distribute them, hoping that they’d sell, that’s a risk with a downside. Now though, all you have to do is scan a copy and upload it. Scanning books is less trivial than ripping a CD or a DVD, but it’s still something that hobbyists do. The downside to making everything available is pretty minor compared to the chance of actually having a title become a surprise hit. Music and movie producers waited too long to understand what the digital revolution was bringing; I still think that a sanely priced file sharing business would have stopped the illegal downloading before it took over. With the increasing popularity of tablets, the book industry could be the next to make this mistake. It’s time for them to learn from the mistakes of others. Don’t let people learn the joys of downloading your material for free. Start scanning everything before it’s too late.


David Steinberg got his Masters Degree in mathematics from New Mexico State University in 1994. He first discovered the power of live music at the Capital Centre in 1988 and never has been the same. His Phish stats website is at and he’s on the board of directors for The Mockingbird Foundation. He occasionally posts at the blog and has a daily update on the Phish Stats Facebook page

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