In putting together my book proposal I’ve come across some strange offerings from Kessinger Publishing. They’re a reprint service that charges fantastic prices compared to ordinary used books.
A used copy of the 1953 Postcards from Delaplane, for example, will run you five to six dollars at Abe.com (external link). If you mistakenly search Amazon, which does sell used books, you’ll come across this pricing structure:
Postcards From Delaplane (Kessinger Legacy Reprints)
Talk on the net is that the reprints are shoddy and full of errors. I can’t confirm that but the best advice is to always make sure you are buying a real used book and not a reprint, unless no other choice is available.
I also thought they might be in copyright violation with Delaplane’s work, however, there is a gray area with books published between 1923 and 1963. Those works may be in the public domain unless their copyright has been renewed. See the Copyright Renewal Database at Stanford (external link).
Apparently, Kessinger Publishing has taken it upon themselves to reprint, possibly on demand, tens of thousands of titles they consider in the public domain. Here’s how they describe a reprint:
“This scarce antiquarian book is a facsimile reprint of the original. Due to its age, it may contain imperfections such as marks, notations, marginalia and flawed pages. Because we believe this work is culturally important, we have made it available as part of our commitment for protecting, preserving, and promoting the world’s literature in affordable, high quality, modern editions that are true to the original work.”
No e-mail or contact information is at their site. They merely list a P.O. Box number in Whitefish, Montana. Hmm. Many questions come to mind. For one, is a book truly in the public domain if its content belongs to another copyright holder? For example, if a book is a collection of newspaper columns from The New York Times, does that book going into the public domain release all of those columns from the Times’ control? I don’t know. But I wouldn’t assume that. Best advice is to be cautious.
Update: August 25, 2019. There appears to be a welter of publishers, many in India, that are printing out-of-print books. They in general have no right to do so, however, it is my understanding that India does not legally respect American copyright law. They do what they want.
Most titles seem to be from print-on-demand firms. Reprinting old government papers and books, most never under copyright, is a legitimate business. But with few exceptions, in America you can’t reprint without permission.
This print-on-demand industry is so widespread that Abe.com allows you to omit these publishers when you search for a book. My guess is there is no enforcement against these people, especially when they reside in another country. One last thing, with these reprints you never get any maps or accessory materials.