This is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman.
I recently was told of a family society that invested thousands of dollars in publishing a book that is valuable to family members. Due to a shift in technology, however, the society may lose its “investment.” I decided to share the story with others to hopefully prevent repetition by others.
Thousands of family genealogy books were published from the late 1800s through the 1900s. These books vary widely in quality, but many of them are exhaustive reference sources, containing information about thousands of individuals born with the same surname. The most common format is a book that contains information about all the known descendants of an original immigrant or some other individual. Some of these books contain hundreds, or even thousands, of pages of information.
For years, many family societies have been republishing these books and offering them for sale. All books published prior to 1925 are now considered to be public domain, and many books published after that date did not have the copyrights renewed. Republishing out-of-copyright books is legal, and it also provides a great service for extended family members who wish to get a quick start on researching their own family trees.
The recent story involves a particular family society that has been publishing books about their progenitors for more than fifty years. I don’t want to embarrass anyone, so I am going to refer to this group as the “Smith Family Society.” That isn’t their real name. In fact, this story could apply to most any family society, so perhaps you will want to insert your surname of interest in place of the word “Smith” throughout the rest of this story.
The original “Smith Family History” book was published in the early 1900s and sold well at the time. Starting in the 1970s, the Smith Family Society has been republishing the same book over and over, making it available to newer generations. I don’t know how many copies have been sold over the years, but the number apparently is in the thousands of copies. In recent years, the Smith Family Society has been charging $79.95 for the thick book and has had many satisfied customers.
Indeed, republishing this old reference book has been a great service, and most of the people who purchased it have appreciated the republishing service. Of course, reprinting a book, even republishing an old book, is never cheap. The book in question is nearly 1,000 pages. In order to obtain a quantity discount, the Smith Family Society has always printed 1,000 copies at a time, placed the books in storage, and then sold them one-at-a-time. Once the inventory has been exhausted, the Smith Family Society has always ordered another 1,000 copies to be printed, and the cycle repeats itself. This method has worked well for years.
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