Doing the Appendix N series, I’ve gotten a range of feedback. My favorite is of course the variety that goes like this: “I’d never even heard of that author and now I’m reading several of their novels. Wow! So good!” But then there’s that other kind of feedback. It goes something like this: “You act like these authors are a big deal. And they are. But we’ve been discussion them for decades. We know all about them and you aren’t saying anything new. The idea that they are in any way obscure is preposterous!” To which I can only say, thank you for illustrating my point.
There really wasn’t anything special about these books. If you think about where guys like Gary Gygax and James Ward bought their books and how fast that changed, then you’re onto one key to this thing.¹ The fact is, the determining factor for whether or not the list of Appendix N authors is obscure or familiar to you is your age. Just going by the many people that have talked to me about this, there is a noticeable difference between people that were born, say, in 1975 and people that were born in 1970. Just that few years difference could have a tremendous impact on the odds of you having picked up a book by Fritz Leiber, for example.
Now, I love me a good conspiracy theory. Illuminati is one of my favorite games after all. But there’s more to this than a shadowy group of nudniks ruining fantasy for their own nefarious ends. And Kristine Kathryn Rusch details several factors that can explain a good chunk of what’s behind all this:
So by the end of the 1980s, as Jeffro Johnson noted, books went out of print. There was also a tax ruling that got misconstrued as the main cause of the loss of the backlist in the 1990s, but that ruling only had an impact for a few years. The ruling changed the way that warehoused items were counted on taxes. It’s too complicated to go into here, but suffice to say it wasn’t cost effective for publishers to sit on books in warehouses during that period, so stocking books at a publisher’s expense (to replenish when the supply in the market diminished) ceased.
Midlist books got published, but older titles? Important titles? The first books in a series or books by authors no longer producing new work? Those books were the first to leave the inventory.
Publishers stopped reprinting them, but kept them as company assets unless the writer or the writer’s estate asked for a reversion of rights.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg.Fascinating stuff! Thanks, Kristine!
As always, read the whole thing!™
¹ It was the Lake Geneva News Agency. (See Dragon Magazine #203 for the earliest account of their initial meeting that I know of.) If anyone knows of any pictures of this place, I’m curious as to what it looked like. Not so much like a Barnes & Noble I’d wager!