Publishing and Book Scarcity

In this world of on-demand printing and e-books, one might hope that we would no longer have to deal with issues of scarcity with published books – alas this is not the case. I was just corresponding with an author today who wrote a high-quality book on a very niche subject (I don’t want to include a name because I don’t want this to be interpreted as something personal; it’s not)  several years ago and only printed 100 copies. They are all long sold out now, and I just now found out about it.

In the past, that would be unfortunate but understandable. In the world of professional printing, you must run a significant number of books to make a printing economical, and in the case of technical works written for small audiences (like really good technical gun references) only a few publishers are willing to finance such a project (Collector Grade is one such example, but even they are turning towards more popular guns in recognition that books on this like the Chauchat just don’t move). So the author must pay up front for all the books and then sell them individually over years before they can recoup their investment. Quality doesn’t make a book profitable; volume does. A friend of mine is another such author, who has stacks of boxes of his book that will take years to all sell. It’s an excellent book, with both great production quality and a massive amount of information available nowhere else. But it’s expensive (by necessity) and on a subject of interest to a pretty small number of dedicated enthusiasts.

One might think that on-demand printing like the service offered by Amazon would offer a perfect solution, removing the up-front cost to an author. I suggested this specifically to the fellow I was corresponding with today. His reaction? Nope, the printing is not good enough quality and he would rather have it unavailable than printed below his standards. Truly a shame, but he’s not entirely wrong. On-demand books right now are rather lackluster in my (albeit limited) experience. Not a big deal for works of text, but books with a lot of really good photos are a different matter. Will this technology improve in time? I don’t know, but I hope so.

Another alternative that might seem obvious is the e-book. While I love having a big library of physical books, electronic copies have some really significant advantages – like being able to do text searches and being able to transport an entire archive in a drive the size of your thumb. When I am traveling, being able to bring all my books along with me for reference is a really handy option. Unfortunately, I think there is a lot of gut-level objection to e-books on the part of authors. For one thing, they are worried about piracy – won’t the work just be stolen by everyone after the first paid purchase? Well, for technical niche works like scholarly gun references, I think that is not a substantial threat. I think the more significant issue is that (with zero hard evidence to support my theory) the kind of people willing to pour years of their lives into researching these sorts of books, knowing that they will never make any truly substantial money on them, are the sort of people who place a high psychological value on old-fashioned wood pulp and that wonderful new (or old!) book smell. I think they find the very concept of e-books subconsciously offensive, a sign of the death of true culture.

Ultimately, the root of the problem is that there is no money to be made writing the sort of books that a person like me really wants to have in my library. As the quality and value of such a book increases, the potential market decreases and the time investment required for research and writing increases. It’s a vicious tradeoff, and the result is that books are only written by the people who are most passionate about the subject and willing to do the work for basically no return. It should not be surprising that once you get to that point, maximizing distribution and accessibility is not longer their prime concern. I suspect many of these folks are writing for specific individual friends or collecting groups, and consider their work done once those people are satisfied.

Solutions? I don’t know. The best solution would be patronage like the aristocracy of yore might have practiced, where an interested wealthy individual could hire a researcher (well, not “hire”, but rather support on a grant or fellowship) to guarantee them an income and a return on the work being done. Today, that patron could then sell the book in electronic form or in a traditional or on-demand physical printing as they liked. Or simply release it into the public domain, for that matter. A crowd-sourced funding model would not work, because there just aren’t enough people interested in a Treatise on Development of the 5,5mm Bergmann Cartridge or the History of the Dovitiis Mauser Conversions of Uruguay. Nope, it would take a person like the late Henk Visser to both see the value in having those books written and be willing to pay for them with no expectation of making the money back.

I suppose the immediate lesson to be learned here is that when you see that obscure book released, buy a copy even if the price makes you cringe. Because once they are all gone (and there are never very many printed in the first place) the price will triple AND you won’t be able to find a copy even if you’re willing to pay (ref: The Grand Old Lady of No Man’s Land by Dolf Goldsmith). This is why I just bought a copy of the MBA Gyrojet book and Vol III of the History of US Small Arms Ammo


  1. Ian as the author of a book about guns and gun culture, The Guns We Left Behind: tales of culture and caliber, I was thoroughly moved by your insightful report on the state of gun oriented literature. We publish because we believe in a medium that is a shadow of its former self. Knowing that my book sits in gun lover’s libraries gives me pride and satisfaction if not monitory reward. Thanks for taking your website to a higher level. One writer to another, you warrant the highest praise. Phil Hirsh

  2. Ian. I love your work. And agree totally. Besides being a love of older small arms, I am also a antiquarian book collector and have a library of over 3000 volumes. The small book shop, every town once had at least a half dozen, are now a thing of the past. Even the big players like Borders failed in this business given the Internet and the challenges it presents to making a profit (there, bad business decisions also played a part)
    Finding that obscure place, and that even more obscure shelf, for that treasured obscure book is a joy few have these days… and the “musty back-room” of old used books shops is slowly fading away..
    sad but true… like the Swed Mauser I bought for $60; those days are long gone….

  3. I’ve never had a book published, but I’ve done my share of writing on this and other subjects online. I’ve never even considered trying to publish or self-publish a book for precisely the reasons Ian cites here.

    I was always taught that paying a printer to run off and bind copies of your own <em magnum opus was “vanity” publishing, and the worst sort of egotism. However, in the modern world, that may be the only way to actually get a book on a specialized subject (like historical weapons) published.

    Perhaps the answer is an online version of old-time amateur literary ‘zines like “Home Brew”, that early on published a lot of H.P. Lovecraft’s stories. There were similar magazines devoted to history, notably the American Civil War.

    Other than that, the only practical solution may be websites like this one.



  4. As you know, I’ve written several books myself; a few titles had widespread interest and did very well, while a couple others were rather narrow in scope and survived only a first printing. As I explore more ideas that have similarly limited interest, it’s clear that a publisher is not going to risk the money that it takes to put out even a simple book. Something that needs high quality or specialized printing? Not a chance.

    I believe the idea of crowdfunding such books is probably the best way we have in this modern society to get specialized information into distributable form while still providing some remuneration to the creator. We’re seeing a lot of documentary films being produced this way (and actually winning awards in the process against conventionally funded projects); not so much, yet, for books.

  5. This is exactly what I’ve gone through recently with the ArmaLite AR-10 book by Pikula. I never knew about the book when it came out, but now that I do, it is almost unobtanium.

    Thanks for the info about the Gyrojet and Small Arms Ammunition books. I was unaware of both of those, and they are now ordered.

  6. I can only comment on this from a European (German, to be exact) perspective.
    Here in Europe, when you do a Book-on-Demand publication, you need not invest much money to make the book orderable in any bookshop and keep it that way. Cost is about 15 to 25 dollars per year.

    The real investment is the time to collate the material, write it up (copyright for illustrations may be difficult), and create a printable PDF. This requires some computer ability, working with a program that can do this. I published 3 books with 3 different publishers and am very satisfied with the printing and binding quality.
    One real challenge is copy editing to find typographic errors. The author cannot do this on his own, because he will overlook too many errors. So either friends must be found or a professional copy editor hired (around $1000).

    The other challenge is to tell the world that your book is available. For example, advertising in the American Rifleman may reach a lot of people, but is really, really expensive. For a book treating a niche subject (in my case exterior ballistics of small arms on a professional level) there is no chance to sell enough copies compensating the cost of the advertisement.

    Something that turned out to be unexpectedly difficult (two of my book are written in English in an attempt to reach a broader audience) is to find a way that makes it easy for a customer outside Germany to order a copy, even if he does not speak German and pay via credit card. This is still unsolved.

    So if an author has compiled a book manuscript -which he thinks would be a useful contribution- there is no need to invest a lot of money to get it published as a Book-on-Demand (meaning a real printed book, orderable in bookstores).
    The trick of Book-on-Demand is that copies are only printed when an actual order was received. There is no need to print copies in advance (and paying for them), and not “out-of-print” condition possible, as long as the author is willing to pay the very moderate annual fee to keep his book in print (orderable).

  7. Ian:
    My Personal Opinion: This is another subject near and dear to my heart. I literally have a ton of books in my library and treasure every one. Several are specialized, historical or technical such as first editions of the most important computer code and artificial intelligence tomes written from BASIC through C++ and Deep Neural Networking in AI. I frequent any library that is having sales of outdated books and have found several that are absolute treasures such as a pristine copy the fist edition of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s complete works. Another is the complete chronicles of the Spanish conquest of the Americas translated directly from the original manuscripts. In another venue, I have documents and books from the early experiments in rocketry. None of these that I know of are in electronic format anywhere. There are documents, papers and books in the archives of Tulane University in New Orleans on the Maya Culture of Central America found nowhere else in the world. I used them extensively in writing a thesis on the Mayan Milpa Agricultural System and its contribution to their advanced culture, their mathematical system (base-20 instead of base-10 structure) and etc. You cannot find these online. I have a tremendous volume of personal research data that was saved on floppies that were compressed in Windows 95 and cannot be read by any other means. Likewise, there is a vast database from our early times at Cape Canaveral that are irretrievable due to outdated technologies and for all intents and purposes lost forever. In contrast, there is a Jewish scroll of the Torah that is 1500 years old that has been charred but has been deciphered by modern scientific means. The surviving portions of the Dead Sea Scrolls have likewise been completely recovered, deciphered, translated and preserved. The oldest copy of the Quran/Koran has likewise been recovered and even the unreadable parts detected and preserved using modern scanner technology negating some of the modern claims of the validity of recent translations. Egyptian papyrus documents dating from the earliest periods have been recovered and preserved in the original. Clay tablets written in Cuneiform from the Assyrian Epoch have been recovered, translated and preserved including the Code of Hammuroby, the first codified laws of any civilization on earth have likewise been translated and preserved. And the list grows by the day. This being said, there is no replacement for the printed word. Our own Declaration of Independence, Constitution and the Federalist Papers are readily available to all who wish to have them and the knowledge they convey. Early editions of the news papers and printed text using the alphabet developed by Chief Sequoyah, of the Eastern Cherokee Nation are preserved in the original Cherokee dialect. These, then, are but a minuscule measure of the true value of the written word. There is no substitute.

    • “These, then, are but a minuscule measure of the true value of the written word. There is no substitute.”
      You might like or dislike but newer, more efficient technologies, supersede older.
      Like railroads superseded horse-drawn vehicles and smokeless powder superseded black-powder.
      When written word might be enough durable to stay readable through more than 1000 years, it is not efficient method of data storage (in mean: number of letters (chars) to mass or size ratio), but anyway used through many years, because no better technology was known until Microfrom was invented.
      Imperial Airways which used this under name Airgraph in 1930s could deliver much more mail with same aeroplane. A General Post Office (GPO) poster of the time claimed that 1,600 letters on film weighed just 5oz, while 1,600 ordinary letters weighed 50 lbs.

  8. I can identify with your book publishing article. I have made two varmint hunting DVDs just because I wanted to and have had very supportive comments made on their content quality; I’d feel confident comparing them to any others out there. I doubt I’ll ever recoup the cost. But that, again, was not my chief objective.

  9. i just did a fast check on google and i discovered that books-on-demand websites do exist in the USA. Would it be possible to create a ‘collective’ of individuals who are interested in publishing via such an alternative, even if the group is small, and then share advertising etc costs? Would it take a great deal to set up an informal ‘old guns’ press using such a books on demand website to handle technical side? i have a collection of small velo dogs i hope to write up and have been searching for a venue. i have published in other fields- history- with commercial and university presses– but older guns poses a whole new set of challenges. i would be happy to work with any other individuals finding themselves in this same situation

    on another matter…..Ian, your daily notes on guns being auctioned are jewels i look forward to seeing every day.

  10. One of the major problems with e-books in the past was that low cost e-book readers didn’t have the quality of screen to display photographs very well. You really need something like a tablet for that.

    I suspect that in the next decade however, printed books are going to vanish completely except as high priced “art objects” or the used book market (especially for collectable books). Self publishing is going to have to adapt to that world.

    So far as piracy is concerned, if you are going through one of the big vendors then copy protection is built into the reader.

    The real main obstacle that I see is that many authors simply don’t know how to make their own e-books. Perhaps what is really needed is for someone to take the time to educate authors on how to do that. Perhaps there’s room for someone to run seminars on this at appropriate meet-ups or events?

  11. I have a couple of friends who have self-published recently–one’s a preacher who writes fiction set in ancient Israel and sees it as part of her ministry, the other just wanted to be a writer. They’re both selling their books as e-books and as publish-on-demand hard copies. Neither of them were writing with the object of making a living at it, but the income they get from it is a nice addition to the psychic income of being a writer.

    I mention this because the sort of books you’re talking about here are usually written by someone, not as an economic proposition, but because of their curiosity and love of the subject matter. If you’ve got a passion for, oh, say, flintlock muskets issued to the army of the Duchy of Courland, and have done all the research to write the definitive reference on the subject, why wouldn’t you want to make it available to as wide an audience as possible? You might be pleasantly surprised by how well the e-book sells. You’ll also be assured that all that work you did will be available to someone someday who might really need it.

    Keep in mind, too, that there are no inventory or distribution costs with e-books.

    Also, are you familiar with Project Gutenberg and similar organizations dedicated to digitizing old books that are in the public domain? If someone has a collection of rare old firearms references that are out of copyright, consider letting Gutenberg or someone like them scan them so the contents are accessible to the rest of us.

  12. In every Sci Fi book I’ve ever read dead tree books are replaced by electronic books. Book stores would carry a single copy of what’s in print and the electronic version is delivered to your home computer or a personal device.

  13. Interesting article by Ian and the comments are interesting as well, but all show varying degrees of understanding about book publishing in general and print on demand in particular.

    I am the owner of Merriam Press, as some of you may know, a one-man operation that is run out of my small apartment. I have been in the military history publishing business since 1968 (some may recall some of my earlier efforts such as WW2 Journal/Military Journal, when the business was called Graphics House Ltd and later International Graphics Corp., and I had two partners at the time, the late Bill Auerbach and Peter Frandsen). Merriam Press was created when the partnership was dissolved in 1988 and has been a sole proprietorship ever since.

    Originally I started out publishing in 1968 using a manual typewriter and a mix of offset and mimeograph printing (hey, I was 16 at the time, had a passion to do a WWII “magazine” and just did it). Over the years I went from that to electric and electronic typewriters and phototypesetter machine and finally Windows PCs, and printing was done by offset for the magazines and then when the magazines were dropped and I switched to booklets in the 80s, I “printed” them on demand using a photocopier (I virtually invented print on demand in the early 1980s).

    In the mid-90s I started doing full-size books and printing was direct from the computer to a heavy duty office laser printer (in four years of use I printed over 1 million pages on that printer). In 2005 I discovered, a POD publisher. They do not charge a fee when you upload the finished files to their servers. You only have to pay for actual copies printed. They also list the books on their site and will put your books into distribution through Ingram and also get it on Amazon, at no cost.

    In 2012 I started using CreateSpace, a division of Amazon, and now most of the paperbacks I publish are done through CreateSpace, and the titles are listed on Amazon the day after I have okayed their release, once all the proofing, etc, has been done. Since they only do paperbacks, I use Lulu to do hardcover editions, some paperbacks and all the eBook editions. CreateSpace also does not charge a fee to have them handle a book. Neither charge any sort of annual fee to keep the books on their list. Any outfit that does that is not an outfit I would ever use. There is no expense for them to store your files on their servers and keep them available for sales for an indefinite period.

    Quality of printing is not bad, but if you’re looking for high quality, heavy coated stock, neither of those printers will satisfy you. They do offer full-color printing on slightly heavier, smoother paper and the quality of images is definitely better than the B&W printing, but still may not be high enough for some authors.

    Another POD outfit is Blurb, that does do high-quality printing on quality stock and they have some odd and large, non-standard sizes that the others don’t offer. However, their pricing is very high and the retail price for a 100 page book might have to be $50 or more. But if you have a book on a very specialized topic and you want high quality printing, but can’t afford to do a print run, Blurb may be a possibility. If the work is so specialized that there is nothing else on the topic, then people will pay for it. I’m not saying you should overcharge for it, but a price high enough to cover at least the costs associated with actually printing the copies would be necessary and that may have to be fairly high with Blurb. But again, there is no added cost for setting a book up with them or paying any annual fee.

    I do very little advertising outside of my web site and 1/3 page ads in a couple of magazines. Most of my sales today are through Amazon, with additional sales through distribution (which is primarily other online bookseller, plus some sales through bookstores). I have almost 300 titles in print today and total sales for all titles last year was over 5,000.

    I also do eBook editions of the printed books as well as some that are eBook-only titles. Lulu handles all the eBook titles for me. I create a Microsoft Word document and upload it and they convert it to an ePub file. They sell it on their web site, and then it also goes to Amazon, B&N, Apple and Kobo, as well as I sell them myself.

    Not all eBooks will have DRM protection, so if you need that you will have to make certain that is being done. Lulu used to do it automatically, but complaints forced them to drop it as sales were being lost due to DRM protection. Customers just do not like it and most are honest people. And no matter what you do, your work is going to be posted online somewhere, and probably a lot of somewheres. I have found digital copies of many of my titles all over the web. And some people will scan a printed book and post it on places like Scribd, which is actually a legit site but they don’t vet material posted and instead will remove material if you file a DRM claim (you have to prove you are the copyright owner).

    I have found that many of the titles that I have available in printed and eBook editions, the eBook editions are outselling the printed editions. By using Microsoft Word to prepare the eBook, you do not have to deal with the coding that eBooks can require. There are some specific rules you have to follow, but these are easy to learn. If you don’t follow the rules, certain issues the conversion process will fix them automatically but others may result in the file being rejected and you’ll have to determine what the problem is that caused the rejection and then fix it to follow the rule.

    I also use Microsoft Word to prepare the interior copy for all the books I publish. Desktop publishing programs are overkill for most books. I’ve done pictorial books using Word. I never took any courses on how to prepare copy or graphics design, but I did take many art courses and such in school and with almost 50 years in this business, I learned by doing over a thousand books and publications (I did work for other publishers as well).

    Proofreading is an art, and it can’t really be taught. You have that skill or you don’t – most don’t. I’ve even had professional proofreaders send me query letters looking for work and their query letter had errors. Most of the books I published have been proofed by the author at least, and many by others such as family, friends and some have paid for proofreaders. I’ve seen books published by companies large and small that have really dumb, obvious errors in them.

    Project Gutenberg is fine, lots of books most of us would never be able to see, but their scanning quality is all over the place. I also sell PDF files of old manuals and other books and documents that I have scanned, and in most cases I purchase the book and then tear it apart to get the best possible scans. Project Gutenberg can’t do that, of course, they have to scanned the bound volumes.

    So-called vanity publishing is not the issue it was years ago. Many quality books are self-published. The trick is to make sure the design is well done, there are as few errors as possible and you try to make it look like the “publisher” is a business, not just the author publishing his work. Get a company name, which can even use your name (such as my own Merriam Press; you also don’t run into issues with trademark infringement using your own name, although in my case people are always confusing my company with Merriam-Webster). And get your own ISBN number; if you use a CreateSpace or Lulu ISBN, their name will be listed as publisher and that is a dead-giveaway that it is self-published.

    • I have some knowledge of current state of the art commercial printing. The industry is moving to digital printers.

      A current HP model(about 35 feet long) will print each page different so there it no collating and a normal PDF file is what is downloaded to print. More or less a PDF E-book could be downloaded and printed. Picture quality is good as it gets for a book.

      Also a variable field can be in the PDF for something like say the buyer name. This really adds no cost to the printing, but would in the handling.

      These printers something like 70,000 pages an hour, so they aren’t as fast normal printers. That means often have free time(cheap?) available.

      I’m just throwing this out there and what format one might want to use for there final version of a book.

      • CreateSpace and Lulu print from a PDF file. eBooks are done differently. I do them in Word since Lulu will use a program to convert the Word file automatically, as opposed to the way one had to do an eBook only a few years ago, which was a nightmare unless you took the time to learn the process.

        You can’t print an eBook file because there are no pages in an eBook. While the Word file I create to make an eBook, technically has pages, they are totally ignored by the conversion process. To print an eBook, even after making it into a PDF, the results would be totally unacceptable. eBooks are not created from PDF files. While you can do that, it defeats one of the main purposes for an eBook — that the text can be enlarged (or reduced) as the person reading it desires. PDF files cannot be enlarged or reduced on an eBook reader (lesson learned the hard way a few years ago). They can be enlarged or reduced on tablets and computers.

        An eBook does not look at all like the printed book version. A PDF file will look like the printed version. I also sell the PDF version of the book, which is the same file the printer used to print the book. The eBook version looks nothing like the printed or PDF version, but still includes all the same material.

  14. Perhaps a middle road could be putting the book on a CD that is copy protected. The quality of any paper printout would be the responsibility of the end user. CDs are probably not all that expensive to produce and they are rugged enough to be shipped through the usual mail system.

      • Of course all security schemes can be breached. The question becomes one of how strong is the protection and what percentage of the customers will go to the trouble of defeating the copy? Certainly Ebay is full of pirated goods. If the audience for the book is that small, the number of customers for the pirated version would also be small, reducing the incentive for pirates.

    • You do realize that most PCs or Macs are now being shipped without a optical drive? as someone pointed out already the format keeps changing: I have some texts in Wordstar format on 8 inch floppy drives written soem 30+ years ago. I no longer have a machine that sports this drive. but I have many 17th century paper books that other then the minor problem of being written in Latin are still readable today..

      • “I have some texts in Wordstar format on 8 inch floppy drives written soem 30+ years ago.”
        Now I imagine that in future there will be special branch of archeology seeking various “archeo-technology” artefacts like floppy readers.

        “but I have many 17th century paper books that other then the minor problem of being written in Latin are still readable today”
        Anyway more efficient method of data storage supersede that less, even at a cost of durability (most users don’t need storages which will 1000 years)

      • And you can add either an internal or external optical drive if need be. I build my own computers, for 20 years now, and always have a DVD burner in them. Some authors have many large image files they need to send me for their book and they sometimes use optical disks. Some will use thumb drives now. I have other uses for a DVD drive as well, including shipping digital files to customers (some files are over 1 GB and the service I use to allow a customer to download a file after purchasing it does not handle files over 1 GB; I’m still in the process of converting most of the digital files I have for sale to that service).

        I now backup everything on multiple hard disks so have no need for storing files for backup on any sort of media such as disks. If I backed up the book files I have, it would take hundreds of disks, one project per disk. I have almost 2 terabytes of data that gets backed up regularly to a rotating series of hard disks. I use solid state drives for Windows and the programs and another for the files I am working on. When I finish with a project, it gets backed up to the hard disks.

        If the storage medium changes, you need to change and backup everything on the new medium. I figured that out when 5.25-inch disks became extinct and ditched the 3.5-inch disks as well, and even CD and DVD disks for backup purposes.

        Some people will always want printed books — there is nothing like the feel (and smell) of a real book. Digital books will never fully replace printed books. The “experts” claimed several years ago that by 2015 all new books would be digital — so much for “experts.” I have customers who will buy both the printed book and the digital edition, the latter usually for quick searching of the text for research purposes, but the former for the pleasure of reading the actual book.

    • You can do a Print Screen of any image on your computer so in effect even with copy protection, someone can still copy a digital book, page by page. Time consuming, to be sure, but doable.

      Also, the eBooks I do can be viewed on any eReader as well as tablets and even computers, the latter using Adobe’s free Digital Editions software program.

      • While the paper book may be in a slump I wouldn’t set a timeline for its demise just yet. I and all of my serious reader acquaintances have a good 20-30 years left in us even if we glued ourselves to our reading chairs and started smoking and drinking heavily. Given that none of us intend to do those things, you’re looking at 40+ years before our private libraries end up in estate sales. Hell, given the economic situation of the last 8 years, my generation of ink-sniffers hasn’t reached or neared its peak in disposable income yet.

        I only read ebooks when the alternative is reading no book at all. (That or skipping a book in a series – a fate nigh as terrible.)

        • Whups – didn’t mean to post that in reply to you, Mr. Merriam but such is life. It probably wouldn’t be read much or start a discussion even if it wasn’t in the wrong place.

        • My comment about books being all digital by 2015 — according to the publishing industry “experts” — was that all NEW books would be released only in digital form. Paper books will be around for many, many years, past any of our lifetimes (I’m 64). Libraries are still buying paper books — even some of mine now and then. But they are also adding digital books as well,sometimes both types for the same book. On the plus side, anything that gets kids reading is these days is not to be dismissed by us old fogies.

  15. For electronic publishing, with the ability to easily get paid for sales (where the author sets the price) you might have a look at iBooks. They also allow you do to some things that you cannot in a print version (such as animations) and you get immediate world-wide handling of credit-cards, etc. The authoring software is free.

    • Thanks for the link! I just searched “Brassey’s Essential Guide to Small Arms” and the cheapest one is about $450. I know where to get it in .pdf form (unethical and illegal, of course) but I would rather have a paper copy.

  16. I imagine that an E-Journal would be, at least conceptually, a good solution to this problem. I suspect that there are many would-be researchers would be happy to write on a given subject, but would prefer that formatting and distribution be left up to someone else. Additionally, there are a number of interesting topics that may not be extensive enough to warrant a book-length work, which would be more suited to a shorter and more focused research-article format.

    • I have created some magazine style eBook files for WWII articles and the World War 2 Album series I publish is available in eBook format; some are also available in print and PDF editions as well.

  17. Great topic – I am sure that many old firearm lovers are also the book loving types.
    I have used Blurb with good results for a family history, actually an excellent result for a small run print with a lovely hardback book.

    I have made my own bookscanner that allows me to scan out of copyright books for projects like gutenberg and

    and the Homer post-process program that collates the .jpeg book page photographs into a trimmed, rotated, keystone corrected, OCR set of images that are turned into a compressed, OCR’ed pdf.

    • Homer looks like a DIY scanner to scan books without tearing them apart (as I do). Seems like a lot of work just to get to the actual scanning part. There are scanners that will scan books without having to tear them apart ( — or break the spines when scanning them intact, which I have also done.

      Adobe Acrobat will combine the individual image files and then straighten and OCR the pages and works fairly fast. OCR accuracy will vary with the quality of the scanned image and the fonts used in the original book. Decorative fonts will always be problematic and some normal fonts can be difficult.

      If you want to do a facsimile reprint of a book — create a new printed edition — you almost have to scan every page individually to get the best possible results, so destroying an original printed copy is almost a must. Obviously you can’t tear apart rare books.

      • Okay, downloaded and examined that file. I will offer some constructive criticism. What happened to page 18; was the original like that? The odd pages the margins are larger than the even pages — why? I assume it has to do with the process you used to scan the pages; I don’t know precisely how Homer works, but my guess is the distance of your camera from the odd pages was farther than those for the even pages.

        The pages with images running sideways need to be turned. Someone reading the file on a computer will not be able to turn their monitor. And while Acrobat allows you to turn each page individually, most people will probably not know about that feature (most of my authors and customers don’t have a clue how to use even the most basic features of programs like Word and Acrobat Reader; I sometimes get calls from customers who can’t even figure out how to open a file and one customer, a lawyer, had to call me to find out how to get the disk into his computer because his secretary, who usually does that for him, had gone home for the day!). Never assume your audience knows as much as you do about anything.

        Some of the scans, such as the B&W images between pages 80 and 81 are all but useless — they are not grayscale but simple B&W images and all detail has been lost. I scan all pages, including text, in grayscale except for those that have color. The OCR will do a better job when you scan text in grayscale. I see the images between 98 and 99 were done in color, although they could have been done in grayscale (reducing file size a bit) since they aren’t in full color. Looks like you scanned all the other images in color, only those between 80 and 81 were done in B&W — that’s odd, was the book that way?

        I assume the cover was plain, as was often the case in those days, thus not scanned. I would have created a cover, using one of the interior images and adding the title and author. The reason for that is I would have been offering them for sale and the service I use (Payhip) requires a cover image for the item’s web page and the title page would be pretty plain for that purpose.

        Payhip stores the files on their servers (the company is headquartered in London) and the customer pays them, then downloads the file, and Payhip pays me through Paypal, after they deduct 15 cents for their service (there are no other fees, but they will add VAT for customers in European countries).

  18. Just to be different, what about renting paper books or selling some sort of subscription service whereby subscribers can have one or two checked out for a month at a time. Mail them back when done. Basically a long-distance library. Could include a thin binder in which people could add notes, possible corrections, etc. that other readers might be interested in–give a free subscription to eon.

    Authors could arrange a royalty per borrow, and I don’t think that anyone who would have bought the book anyway would wait for it to go to the library if it was a precise subject they had an intense interest in. For a genre like guns this might work well, especially for someone who had an interest in a wide variety of makers / countries / styles and might be interested in Belgium pistols 1930-1940 one month then decide it was time to make a deep dive into Colt commercial market BARs the next month, then all the variations of straight-pull military rifles the next, etc., or someone who just bought something unique and wanted to research it.

    This would still work with the self-publishing model and would make the works available to a wider market, especially to people who have a limited budget and can not afford that many $50 books but would be happy to spend ~$20 a few times a year to have access to a library of books. It also supports keeping books on paper, and although I have been programming computers since the 1980’s and spend a good part of my day at work mucking about with code and databases and such, I have no use whatsoever for ebooks. I want a book I can hold, can flip through, go back and forth in, and so on.

    • Just a comment, meant to be humorous, so don’t take offense: “eon” I assume was supposed to be “Ian” which makes me think the author of that missive was dictating his message. 🙂

      I was the Librarian from 1980 through the mid-90s of the American Society of Military Insignia Collectors (ASMIC). It was a lending library, but done entirely by mail. Most of the books were donated by the members. When I took it over there was not even a complete run of their publication, and through my efforts we eventually got a nearly complete run, which went back to 1937 when they started.

      It is not everything you might think it could be. Not too many rare works were in the library. A lot of the materials were the result of collectors sending in whatever junk they had no further need for, much of it having nothing to do directly with insignia. They had 30 days to read it, but ship time to and from could add a month or more and naturally certain items were always going out so there was a waiting list for those. And there were some losses in transit and damage was a fact of life, both from rough handling in shipment (I packed in corrugated cartons with plenty of packing — and many would send them back in a flimsy paper envelope — even hardcover books. And a few never returned items and they were dropped from the membership rolls as a result.

        • Agreed, Bart! Years ago there was a certain specialty magazine on a subject other than guns, but dealt with a certain type of military equipment and the publisher/editor turned out to have been arrested and served time for stealing many books from the library of the high school where he was a teacher. I think I still have the newspaper clipping that told the sordid story about his arrest and trial. The company folded through mismanagement, big surprise. There was another aspect to that case and if I included even a bit of that, some of you would probably figure out who it was.

    • Further to this (I should have finished reading the entire post before responding), I once found a web site that was renting my titles out. They claimed they had my permission (and that of other publishers as they had many titles listed) but they did not. They were charging a fee and sending out the PDF files of my titles (not sure if they had bought the PDFs from me or had scanned a printed book). I sent them a letter to cease and desist and the whole web site disappeared within a month.

      Also need to finish my thought in the previous post to this message: Damage was not just in shipping, but also from handling when in the members’ possession.

  19. A very interesting and informative article, not one I would expect on your highly educational gun show. Your starting to deviate, I think, from your pattern. Surely you have not exhausted your sources of old and unique weapons. Best Wishes. PS I read REAL books too and compiled 7 (all;Geography and Geology, college level, in house Lecture Notes) Yes, Ian, GEOGRAPHY!!! It’s an out of style topic/course these days. Too basic for our modern thinking school officials. Pity. Again, BEST WISHES.

      • I couldn’t imagine that old gun nuts of the type to follow Ian’s work would possibly *fail* to be bookish! We’re a slightly different (and way cooler) demographic than regular “old gun nuts.”

  20. On the extreme end of the cost-to-publish scale, John Audubon was able to sell copies of his book ‘The Birds of America’ in the early 19th century for literally the price of a small farm, through a somewhat unique business model that he developed – not of choice but necessity.

    The point is that it seems most ‘successful’ people have had failures along the way. Finding that successful (and possibly unique) business model and keeping it going is rarely a smooth process.

    • The very first printer Johannes Gutenberg went bankrupt selling his very first work. As to piracy: I find it interesting that a real test of the popularity of a modern movie is no longer how many people see it in the theater (I think the last theater movie I saw was Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, I mean: who goes to a Theater anymore when you can watch Forgotten Weapons?), but rather how many times the torrent has been downloaded. The paradigm is no longer shifting, its on an automatic transmisson!

      • Be careful in downloading pirated movies. Some production companies are very aggressive about policing that sort of thing. The production company of The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty was extremely aggressive in going after anyone who pirated or even downloaded those films. They got hit with a legal letter telling them pay the production company $5K or we take you to court, as I recall.

        • I am not saying I do download such, matter of fact I find most of the Hollywierd productions… frankly…boring.. My idea of entertainment is a instructional video on the use of a lathe. But the stats on torrent downloads are indeed a modern and far more acurate indicator of the popularity of modern video.

        • I have been thinking along similar lines. This post and the associated thread are priceless and I should like to thank Ian and all you commenters above, especially Ray Merriam (“Merriam Press” is indeed a familiar name here).

          I have run into some of the same problems as all of you. I have paid over $100 for books that sold for $30 or even $10 when new in the 1990s. I have had thousands offered for some of the books I have, which I need to retain as references.I have in the last year misplaced a book somewhere in my library or study that is nearly as unobtainium as the Sam Pikula AR-10 book (Charles Balleisen’s Principles of Firearms,1945) .

          I agree with Ian on the utility of ebooks (and a preference for the processed-tree-bark edition where possible. I have taken to scanning some of my rarer library works. The scanner I use is the Fujitsu SV600 which comes with its own software; the first thing I used it on was the plans of the airplane we’re building and some old Soldier of Fortune magazines, so it’s fairly flexible. In my personal opinion, if I convert a book for personal use, I am not violating the copyright as long as I retain both the file and the physical book. Not every copyright lawyer would agree with me; some, especially those working for large entertainment companies, have an extremely expansive view of what copyright entails.

          After reading the thread, I wondered what I could add that would be positive, Many of the high points: ebooks, POD, the difficulty of writers & publishers getting paid for their work in digital — have already been covered. Let me add these:

          1. Genre book writers are miles ahead of us gun buffs on this. I have found the writing on writing of science fiction writers Larry Correia, Sarah Hoyt, and Nick Cole interesting. Indeed, I started reading their stuff on writing and now have added an occasional Science Fiction book to my reading pile, in part, because I admire the way these people, as Larry puts it caps and all, GET PAID.
          Here is an excerpt from a recent blog post reviewing some books, with some links to author interviews:

          Online Reading: If you’re interested in publishing read this series of three interviews with fiction authors who have gone indie and are better off for it: Kristen Ashley,

          Douglas E. Richards,

          and Christopher Nuttall.

          This is a theme we have also seen from others. Of the three authors, we’ve read a couple of Christopher Nuttall’s Ark Royal series space operas and they’re good classic genre books.

          Blog post here, but apart from this it’s book reviews:

          I was (and am) planning to do about what they do with my fiction, which is military adventure (I’ve run into genre snobbery in New York, even after using a family “in” to get picked up by a big house. And it felt like The Big House if you get my drift).

          You can’t just use Kindle because many, many users prefer ePub. You need a way to address that, too. Martin van Creveld’s current publisher, Castalia House, will email you the ePub if you bought the .mobi on Amazon.

          Digital Restrictions Management is a heated issue. I am with Nuttall on this, and prefer to buy and sell DRM-free books, but also am concerned about authors and risk-taking publisher’s getting paid. As I understand it, Castalia’s experience has been positive with the honor system, as has Nuttall’s.

          But I was looking at another method for publishing gun technical books, precisely because I want (1) a book that will have a low peak demand never to go out of print, and remain still available to the long tail of low-density buyers, and (2) to retain that long, slow, revenue stream. Every author publishing in ebooks has insisted that their success comes largely from a long backlist, and that every new release results in a shockwave of sales running through the backlist.

          Finally, for those of you with a chaotic splay of books, two applications I have found useful.

          for the physical library:
          it’s not perfect but it gets better every month.

          for the ebooks, Calibre.(forget the website, sorry).

          I also highly recommend the Fujitsu SV600 for those such as can afford and use it. I bought mine through Amazon. If there’s enough interest I may post about it in the future.

          • The problem with self-publishing is that few know how to create a decent looking book, especially with printed books. It took me years of actual hands-on experience creating hundreds of publications, large and small, to learn what I have learned. I did a good deal of reading books and magazines on designing books and magazines, but having had a strong art background (I had planned to become an artist prior to my initial foray into publishing) and I also had some mechanical drawing and drafting courses under my belt. In addition, I have a special knack for eyeballing anything and knowing if it’s straight, level, etc — a handy thing to have when doing publication layout (especially back in the days before computers and you cut and pasted blocks of typed text). I’ve done publication work for small one-man outfits that the person couldn’t draw a straight line with a ruler. It also helps to have a touch of OCD, which I do have (I also have a slight touch of ADD and each helps control the other).

            As for eBooks, by using Lulu’s eBook service, I need only create a single Word document and after uploading that to Lulu and their conversion, they submit it as ePub files to B&N (Nook), Apple (iPad), Kobo (yeah, I never heard of them before but they are supposed to be one of the biggest eBook distributors in the world), and of course Lulu also sells them, but they also submit it to Amazon for the Kindle. So all the bases are covered without the headaches of doing it one by one using a variety of programs.

            You may have a little more control over certain elements with Calibre, but I looked into that and between the way it worked and what I had read about the problems some had with it, I just don’t want to deal with that, nor do I have the time to do so, and if Lulu covers all the bases with a single file, that works for me. Sales have been quite good, with virtually no promotion other than my web site, but primarily people just finding it on those vendors sites.

            As for payment, I do a 50-50 split of whatever I am paid by Lulu (or whatever I am paid when I make a sale directly to a customer).

            Royalties on printed books are usually quite low, 8-12% is pretty typical. With printed books, the publisher takes all the risk (I’m referring to regular publishing where they print in bulk). They not only have the cost of the books themselves, but then have to pay for warehousing and shipping (major publishers usually use a company that does all the warehousing and shipping), plus all the rest of the many expenses involved which people never think of. Even POD has expenses that can eat into any profit (right off the bat, the printer will take a piece of the action, and then the bookseller gets a piece, and if it goes through distribution, the distributor needs their cut — which is usually the largest).

            One author, who gave an interview several years ago while promoting his latest work, was asked how much he made from his previous book. They sold about 20,000 copies and when all was said and done, he figured he made maybe a nickel a copy (expenses included the promotional tours he did, which came out of his pocket).

            n average, I am paid around $3.00-$4.00 for each copy sold through Amazon, and about half that when a copy sells through a distributor. To make money as an author, you have to be prolific, and produce at least a book a year (think Steve Zaloga or Steven King) — but the books also need to do well to be able to continue selling new works to a publisher.

            DRM is actually Digital Rights Management. 🙂

            The PDF files I sell through Payhip have two methods of protection. Every page has the following notice in small print that I placed (in Acrobat) at the very bottom of every page: “This PDF file created by Merriam Press. Many more PDFs at” The PDFs of books published by Merriam Press also use Acrobat’s security feature, to prevent the customer from printing it — if they want a printed copy, buy the printed copy (duh). Payhip also embeds the buyer’s email address on every page of the file. So far only one person has complained about that, and because the text on a few pages interfered with the images.

  21. Powell’s Books in Portland Oregon is a great source of both new, used and rare books. They have a website: I’m sure there are many other sellers that are searchable also. I hope you find what you’re looking for. Thank you for a great website of your own.

    • Powell’s in Portland is a religious experience for a book lover. It is, imho the best book store on the west coast. Besides being into old obscure semi-automatics (A malady I share with our host Ian), I am also an antiquarian book colllector (I have one of the better “assortment” of 17th century Elzevir pints in private hands for example). Powell’s has been a source of many of my gems; and I have also found gun books of all sorts there. Each time I am in Portland I end up spending more time then my over-priced parking meter can consume.. at Powell’s

  22. well… usual, so many answers bordering on the imaginary about ebooks and god knows what else when the simple fact is that nothing will get done if, as a group, we do not do things as a group. so many people WANT increased book publication but is anyone willing to create an actual subscription list where we publish as a group and buy the books we create? Perhaps that demands just too much of a commitment when hypothesizing the imaginable in the future is more fun. all it takes is a little work to create a ‘series’ through a self print agency and a commitment to subscribe to the resulting publications. i am happy to do what i can along with anyone else willing to work rather than talk. i have half a dozen professional publications and dozens of articles to my credit and i am sure that others of us also have real world experience.

  23. I’ve found CreateSpace’s quality is quite good for trade-paperback type books, if you hire a professional book formatting service. There are plenty of Word templates available online, but there is a noticeable difference when the layout’s done by a pro using InDesign.

    The kind of collector’s work you’re talking about is a different matter. If you’re needing a limited run of large format, hardbound with illustrations, I’d consider financing it through Kickstarter or GoFundMe. That way your up-front production costs are paid for by the people who would be most interested in the final product. Your risk is reduced, and they get what they want. It’s the modern-day version of patronage.

  24. In the arts I believe patronage is happening now. The people no longer want the corporation to decide what is readable,listenable, or watchable. Sites like Patreon are popping up, and I am certain that the wealthy will take their favorite artist under their wing. This is probably the only way in this new world to pay the artist without the fear of theft of intellectual property making him poor.

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