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What happens when we reach the halfway point, when most of the great books have already been published? Just as most of the great TV shows have probably already been made, and most of the great classical music recordings have already been recorded. Golden ages don’t last forever, and it’s entirely possible that we’ve reached that moment in the printed book world.
When that happens, the backlist becomes far more important than it already is. Instead of always being focused on ‘what’s new’, we may end up thinking about, ‘what haven’t I read yet?’
This feels like a significant opportunity, particularly when it comes to ebooks that are easy to keep in stock. There are books from decades ago that are no longer in print but easy to create digitally. What’s missing isn’t the mechanics, it’s the marketing and attention that is necessary to bring a great book to the attention of someone who would love to read it. It requires a cultural shift as well, one in which an author is happy to promote and discuss a book she wrote fifteen years ago instead of always being asked about the next one.
We’re just at the beginning of a rethinking of how we can help readers discover lost treasures of our written heritage.