Sunday, October 13, 2013


NAVAL INTEREST, Keeping Naval Classics in Print

 Popular appeal does not equate to importance in maritime literature, "back lists' must be preserved and distributed. The U.S. Naval Institute is leading the way.

 "The back list" is a term that was used by Vice Admiral Peter H. Daly, USN (Ret.) Chief Operating Officer of the Naval Institute in his monthly column in the US NAVAL INSTITUTE'S PROCEEDINGS  January 2012 issue. He was describing something that American Admiralty Books had previously mentioned in our description of the Naval Institute's publishing activities in our "Classics" section. In our article we described how the Institute had struggled with the decision to publish realistic naval fiction but finally gave the nod to a previously little known author and the result was Tom Clancy's HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER . We then went on to describe the Naval Institute's dedication to important but slow selling works like the DICTIONARY OF NAVAL TERMS, and NAVAL WRITING GUIDE. These are works of professional importance, but appeal to a small market. Along with older works of lasting value, which long ago passed from general market appeal, these are the sort of publications that the Admiral refers to when he uses the term "back list".

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 In his column January 2012 Vice Admiral Daly described how the Naval Institutes "digital publishing" program was "breathing new life into the Institute's  back list of books." He went on to note how before the development of E-Books and print on demand technology those seeking out of print works were left to "Scouring used book markets for copies."  
Last May we described the Naval Institute's new E- Book program with hyperlinks to about nine of their 53 (to date) titles available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Google, and Apple. We look forward to reviewing all of their titles. Just as sales of best selling naval fiction helped provide the profits to keep the Institute's "back list" open, the cost savings represented by the Institute's E-Books and print on demand services are keeping the back list alive. These and other future technologies and the ever growing list of "back list," "classic" ,and important but limited market works, point to a possible future real profit in providing "back list" offerings.

The Naval Institute was providing back list services long before the potential for profit was in sight. By comparison American Admiralty Books which is highly committed to "back list" services is newer on scene than the Naval Institute which has been around since 1873. Our experience with the back list began in our Admiralty Law Section. While starting construction on that section we soon were amazed to find Amazon and other vendors offering used American Admiralty Bureau books for as much or more than $300. We were aware that these books are available from Marine Education Textbooks (124 North Van Ave., Houma, LA 70363-5895; Phone: 985 879-3866) within their original price range of $5 to $150 depending on title. Where American Admiralty Bureau books are described in our pages we always provide phone and snail mail information on Marine Education Textbooks (MET). While MET is very well known among professional work boat officers for their Coast Guard Merchant Marine Officer examination guides and study materials they are not as well known to the maritime legal market. We traced the apparent disappearance of American Admiralty Bureau titles to a change in both zip code and area codes for MET. Those two changes coupled with a change and a couple disruptions in their Internet marketing activities coupled with the "back list" nature of American Admiralty Bureau publications combined to make the works of the American Admiralty Bureau seem to disappear from the market.

The works of the American Admiralty Bureau, were dedicated to fighting "junk science" in the admiralty court room. Few people read titles like "American Admiralty Bureau's COMMENTATOR VOLUME 5 , What is a Vessel? Who is a Seaman, Comments on the Proofs of Vessel Status and Seaman Status after Ocean Ranger" but those who do are engaged in some serious litigation with the quality of life of some seaman and piles of insurance money at stake. So if the book seems hard to come by it could well fetch $300 on the used book market. The back list of maritime literature is important. Recently the American Admiralty Books acquired certain derivative copy rights for publications of the American Admiralty Bureau. We have now published Volumes I and 2 of the Commentator, updated on line in our AUTHORITATIVE LITERATURE section. We have begun to produce an on line updated version of The COMMENTATOR VOLUME III. Researchers may read these volumes on line for free now, print on demand spiral bound copies will be available in future months. We are also running as a series of blog posts an updated version of the Bureau's THE ENDURING PRINCIPALS OF MARITIME INTERNATIONAL LAW. Once the book has been posted as a serial of blog posts it will be shifted to one of our emerging parallel blogs and hyper linked into the authoritative literature section as a read on line E-Book. The spiral bound original is still available as a print on demand paperback from MET

American Admiralty Books will always pay attention to the back list. We review maritime publications both in and out of print. We try to provide information to our visitors on how to obtain copies, even inter-library loans of back list publications. We monitor the efforts of others in keeping the "back lists" available. We certainly applaud the efforts of the Naval Institute in this regard. The Institute is dedicated to keeping the entirety of naval literature available. We think they are moving towards profitability in this regard. We eventually hope to move toward profitability in this regard in the broader area of all maritime literature. Just as "just in time" delivery has swept the wholesale / retail industry, and short run manufacturing has swept the world of manufacturing as part of the "cybernetic revolution," eBooks and print on demand offer the promise of profitability on non best selling titles. A book distributor may never sell ten thousand copies of a particular title, but as it becomes as  inexpensive to print or transmit a single copy of a single publication as it is to produce one in a run of ten thousand of a single title, the back list can become a source of profit. Nothing can protect something of inestimable value like the collective back lists of the maritime publishing world like profitability.

American Admiralty Books isn't a publisher or distributor of books, we are a reviewer, and organizer of maritime literature and reference works, a research aid, and a guide to sources. We do get commissions from some the various distributors hyper-linked to the titles we present This is how we finance what we are trying to do as a public service. We don't ask for donations, and we don't hesitate to give positive, negative, and neutral reviews and descriptions. We aren't dependent on the sale of any particular publication or group of publications. But the back list is very time consuming and produces very little revenue for us, but we are dedicated to the concept. Present popular demand does not equal importance for a publication. As efforts like those of the Naval Institute grow, the affordable back-lists for consumers grows, maritime knowledge expands, and is preserved, and the opportunity to actually make a back list a profit center draws nearer. Our visitors during our construction period may notice that the two most rapidly expanding sections that we currently offer are "Sailing" and "Diving." These have the greatest popular appeal and offer the fastest opportunity for revenue generation. However, we continue to expand back list offerings in all sections because it is important to our mission statement. Eventually through efforts like those of the Naval Institute more publishers and distributors will find a way to profitability for their "back-lists." When they do, our services on identifying, describing, recommending, and sourcing "back-lists" will become a revenue source rather than a revenue drain.

Could knowledge beget knowledge? Might we one day reach a point where the experience of the Naval Institute with the "Hunt for Red October" be reversed. Might we one day see an on demand publisher of public domain "back listed" publications become profitable enough to take a chance on a new publication?
Might that revolution be led by a naval organization created in 1873? Recent developments at the Naval Institute should make even the most adversarial military critic rethink the words "warrior scholar"; its not an oxymoron.

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