Pre-1923 and the Public Domain: Exploring the Old to Discover the New

About a year ago I started delving into the public domain. It is seemingly endless. There are so many amazing finds. The book jackets of old alone can stop you in your tracks. Books that sold hundreds of thousands of copies in their day are collecting digital dust, just waiting to be clicked on, opened up, and zipped on to the digital device of your choice for no money at all. The cover prices are difficult to ignore, however, because it’s hard to believe hardcover books used to only cost $1.

Of course it’s important to read the hot new book by a talented new author, or to help along that hot factor by discovering and then championing under-the-radar working writers who deserve to be read more widely. But I believe it’s just as important to read books from the past, books that have been largely forgotten, written by authors who are long gone and therefore even more forgotten than their books.

There is nuance to copyright law and the public domain, but it is safe to assume that in the US, all works published before January 1, 1923, anywhere in the world, are in the public domain. After 1923, things get a little confusing, and it is definitely true that the very concept of the public domain is under threat, mainly because big business copyright holders do not want to give up the revenue streams for certain big money properties. Let’s save that topic for another time. For now, I’d like to celebrate what IS in the public domain, and focus on how to find start exploring the treasure trove.

I think it’s best to just start out with an example — Rudyard Kipling’s With The Night Mail. I’m a sucker for cool book covers. Who isn’t? I don’t know about judging books by their covers, but I most certainly judge other people, not to mention bookstores, by the book covers they feature face out on their bookshelves and coffee tables.


I’m also a sucker for poetry:


And the classics, of course:


As well as bizarre discoveries:


I’ll continue to explore the public domain, posting at both pre1923 and 52projects.

Of course you can explore and post your favorite finds on your sites and social media as well — that’s the great thing about the public domain — it belongs to all of us. Here are some great places to go hunting:

Project Gutenberg

Flickr Commons

And here are some great resources:

The Public Domain Review

Public Domain Thing

Celebrating the Publication of Tom Angleberger’s The Surprise Attack of Jabba The Puppett

Abrams Books‘ staffers work to complete an origami version of Jabba from Tom Angleberger’s The Surprise Attack of Jabba the Puppett as part of the celebration of the new book and the launch of the new website. The Origami Yoda books are just way too much fun, and Tom, as you can see from the video below, is an author who knows how to create an incredible amount of enthusiasm about reading and creativity.

Abrams Books and Tumblr Poetry Bomb Event

Culminating a month long celebration of poetry at our Poetry Bomb Tumblr during National Poetry Month, Abrams Books and Tumblr presented this fantastic live poetry event at Housing Works Bookstore in NYC on April 30, 2013. Featured readers included both emerging and established poets: Paul Muldoon, Leigh Stein, Melissa Broder, Cathy Park Hong, Kevin Grijalva, and Faith Hahn.

Leigh Stein

Kevin Grijalva

Melissa Broder

Faith Hahn

Cathy Park Hong

Paul Muldoon

Some Initial Thoughts on the Kindle Serials Program

I was very excited to hear about the new Kindle Serials program that Amazon announced last month. Amazon has a way of carving out new marketplaces for digital content, and though serials are nothing new, the Kindle Serials program brings some new life to the form.

Here are just a few initial thoughts:

The new program got lots of attention during and just after the Amazon press conference on September 6, but one thing that I haven’t seen written up is the very low price point — at least with the serials that the program launched with, you pay just $1.99 upfront and you get ALL installments of the serial novel delivered as they come available. I realize this is an introductory price, but if you start out low, it’s tough to then attempt to set a higher price standard later on. Naturally, people respond positively to lower pricing, and go negative if prices start to climb.

And the very low-price point, again, while great for customers, is going to make it difficult to develop a true serials business. The percentages just aren’t going to make much sense. I get the low pricing for the short-form (Kindle Singles), but this is installment-based short-form writing that adds up to a long-form piece. It makes sense to price it closer to a full-length work.

Paying up front for all installments makes it much easier for consumers — they don’t have to remember to come back when new installments become available, as they will just get delivered to the purchaser’s device, slotted right into the serialized ebook. But it takes away the option of incremental payments for each new chapter. There’s no revenue incentive to keep a serial going — for the writer or publisher. It actually makes sense to wrap it up fairly quickly. That’s too bad because part of the fun of the serial form is to draw out the experience.

Another aspect that has come up with the Kindle Serials program is that writers of serials can interact with and take into account fan reactions, comments and suggestions as they work their way through the writing process. Amazon has said they will use the forums on the product pages to encourage this. The problem is Amazon’s forums are pretty lacking in terms of true online community. More likely, writers will be able to leverage their own online platform — most likely Twitter and Facebook — to foster this kind of writer/reader interaction.

Perhaps most of all, Amazon’s full circle ecosystem for publishing and delivering digital content direct to consumers gives it clear advantages. Technically, publishing a serial is pretty easy — you can do it on a website, in a stand-alone app, in a print magazine — but being able to seamlessly deliver content to a device that millions of people are already buying and reading content on is very clearly one of the most effective ways to establish a viable serial program.

All this being said, it’s fantastic to see these new pockets in the marketplace for digital content opening up. Readers obviously benefit from the options, and writers have new ways to present and publish content.

Brooklyn Book Festival 2012

Beautiful day, great panels, huge crowd, books everywhere. Big cheers for an awesome Brooklyn Book Festival.

“Characters on Characters” panel featuring Dennis Lehane, Edwidge Danticat, and Walter Mosley. By far my favorite panel comment came from Dennis Lehane, talking about the “literary fiction” he is absolutely not interested in: “I don’t care about a middle-aged professor having an affair with his student written by a middle-aged professor having an affair with his student.”

“The Sex Panel: Taboo in Pictures,” moderated Heidi MacDonald, featuring Gilbert Hernandez (Love and Rockets), Leela Corman, Molly Crabapple, and Bob Fingerman.

Fantastic panel (“1st over 40”) moderated by Alexander Chee featuring writers who broke through after 40: Carin Clevidence, Jacqueline Jones LaMon, and Julia Glass.

There was always a flurry of activity at the Greenlight Bookstore booth.