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The weirdest book in the world.

February 17, 2014

The weirdest book in the world might be the “Codex Seraphinianus.” It would appear regularly on Bookfinder.com’s list of most-searched-for out-of-print books.

Now, it’s off the list, because a new edition was published last Fall. Yes, you can check it out from the library. It is odd and beautiful, and I wouldn’t dream of attempting a review.

But Bookfinder’s list is worth a look. This is the eleventh list, and a lot has changed since the first. It needs an asterisk, like certain world records—tail wind; 162-game season; steroids.

Titles currently published as ebooks are not considered “in print.” Neither are “print on demand” (POD) titles. Bookfinder is sticking with the traditional out-of-print market.

Ignoring POD titles is not about quality; indeed, some are indistinguishable from trade printings. As explained: “The BookFinder.com Report is meant to highlight books which traversed the entire traditional book lifecycle from life to death, and yet are once again sought after for one reason or another.”

Ebooks and POD books are technologies that render the very idea of “out of print” (OP) obsolete. Whether that will happen in practice remains to be seen.

We face demand for items that are not available new in the marketplace, and when this happens, the OP market responds quickly with high prices.

Recent examples include “Patience with God” by Tomas Halik, which is available as an ebook but no longer in print. We looked for a used copy, but prices started at $95. The ebook is $11.84.

Another is the little gem of a film, only twelve years old, called “Enlightenment Guaranteed” by German director Doris Dorrie. You would think the easiest thing in the world would be to keep a DVD “in print,” but this DVD is not.

Sometimes, it’s a matter of who owns the rights. Prices for the edition we owned started at $1700, which is absurd, of course, the result of automated pricing escalating in the Amazon marketplace. There’s another edition for $200 used.

I don’t know what happened to our copy, but they don’t live forever. Library DVDs get so scratched, it’s easy to imagine them being skidded across the floor, but in fairness, we live in a dry, gritty environment, and DVDs are so delicate you can scratch one with a dry fingertip.

Videotapes were much tougher. I expect the digital equivalent of videotape—streaming video—will be ubiquitous soon enough.

But what is the most sought-after book on the Bookfinder Top 100? Madonna’s book of erotic photographs, “Sex,” published in 1992. It was quite the controversy at the time, and a hand-wringer for many libraries.

Of course there was demand. Many libraries cited the format rather than the content as reason for not buying it: the book is spiral-bound and fairly delicate. We didn’t buy a copy, although in subsequent years we bought spiral-bound books. We’ve even rebind books in spiral binding after traditional repairs have failed. (But it’s true, they don’t do well in public libraries.)

Stephen King has four books on the list, including “Rage,” published as Richard Bachman, which will remain out of print because of its topic: school shootings. Although it still appears in “The Bachman Books” collection.

“Promise me tomorrow” by Nora Roberts will also remain out of print because the author herself said it is so bad her fans should avoid it. Which no doubt accounts for its popularity among OP seekers.

For collectors, ebooks and POD books might be offensive, but for readers, the possibility of all books remaining “in print” forever is a dream that might come true.

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