First off, look at the PDF report I made: Classics of Science Fiction on Audio, Kindle, and Nook. [Excel version.] What I did was take the ranked list from the Classics of Science Fiction web site and make a spreadsheet adding columns for Audio, Kindle, Nook and In Print. By “In Print” I meant there was a paper copy for sale. I then looked for the books on Amazon, B&N and Audible.com web sites, marking their columns Yes or No.
The original Classics of Science Fiction list was pulled from a database of SF titles that had been recommended from 28 different sources. The final list were all books that had been on at least 7 of the recommended lists. What I wanted to know is how well these books are represented in ebook and audiobook editions.
Of the 193 titles, 143 can still be bought as old fashion books. 81 can be listened to as audio books, 69 read on the Kindle and 64 on the Nook. So a little less than half are available as audio books, and about a third as ebooks. That doesn’t sound too bad.
However, if you use just a Kindle for reading, two thirds are not available, so that does feel bad. Or if you’re an audiobook fanatic, a little more than half are unavailable.
35 books were not available from any source and 35 books were available from all four sources. I made the all sources blue, and the no sources red. Some of the red books might be available from other sources like print on demand, for ebook readers other than Kindle or Nook, or even on the web as public domain.
Many of the red titles were collections, so I don’t worry about them going out of print. Often a writer’s short stories get recollected under new titles. If I saw a new collection that appears to have most of the original stories I counted the old title as being in print.
What’s troublesome is the number of novels that are no longer available. Should John Brunner’s Stand On Zanibar really be considered a classic if no one is selling it? Some of these novels do come back into print every decade or so, so if this list was made again in a year it would all be different. Yet, I would think with the advent of ebooks all books will become “in print” digitally.
Some of the short story collections really should be in print today because they are major collections that deserve to maintain their identity, such as:
- Adventures in Time and Space edited by Healy & McComas
- Before the Golden Age edited by Isaac Asimov
- The Past Through Tomorrow by Robert A. Heinlein
Someday I might reevaluate this list and remove the books that people have obviously lost interest in, and remove most of the short story collections, and titles that really shouldn’t be listed as science fiction, like Gulliver’s Travels and Animal Farm. They are on here because fans polls or critics included them, but I think they shouldn’t be.
I’m also surprised by how many famous SF books are not available on the Kindle or Nook. Do some authors not like ebooks and refuse to let their work appear in digital editions, or are there legal problems, or do some publishers think ebooks compete too well with print editions?
What’s fascinating is some books are only available in audiobook editions, like The Lensman series from E. E. “Doc” Smith.
JWH – 9/4/10
Revised 9/5/10: I replaced the reference to Frank Herbert’s Under Pressure to John Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar because Chistopher Carey below pointed out that Under Pressure is also known as The Dragon in the Sea. Thanks for that information. I also found a little know hardback version of The City and the Stars by Arthur C. Clarke. I also added an Excel version because of a reader request.
I also changed the totals in various places. I don’t know if it’s going to be practical to update the essay every time I update the spreadsheet/pdf report.