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SIAM Classics: Giving New Life to Treasured Texts

By Sara Murphy

For more than 25 years, SIAM has been publishing books in the Classics in Applied Mathematics series, and I’ve had the pleasure of working on the series with editor-in-chief Bob O’Malley and many hard-working editorial board members for 10 of those years. Titles in the Classics series differ from the rest of SIAM’s book publications by having already gone through a first life with another publisher who ultimately declared them out of print and returned copyright to the author(s). We discover potential additions to the series mainly through members of the series’ editorial board and the SIAM readership suggesting out-of-print books that contain foundational content, explain a concept in a uniquely understandable way, or both. Fortunately for our readers, SIAM’s policy is to keep books perpetually in print, which means once a book has found its second home in the Classics series, the risk of it becoming unavailable again is gone. 

As the publishing world has changed with the introduction of print-on-demand (POD) methods and e-books, finding new additions to the Classics series has become more difficult. Many of the large commercial publishers have stopped printing hard copies of older books but retain the copyright to them because they can produce one or a handful via POD or can post an ePub or PDF file online and still keep a book “in print” in a modern sense of the term. These newer formats keep valuable resources accessible in some manner to instructors, researchers, and students who want to use them.

However, some books whose first wave of sales ended before the age of these advancements could still be out there, waiting to be revived between smooth green covers and priced affordably.

Photo taken by Lois Sellers of SIAM, edited by Nick Higham (University of Manchester).

How can you identify books that may be eligible for republication? The only definitive way is by discussing the copyright issue with the author and seeing a letter from the original publisher that returns the rights, which is my job, but for our readers who may want to recommend books to us and are unsure if they are out of print, I can suggest a couple clues:

  • You can’t find the title on the website of major online booksellers such as amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com, or the publisher’s own website.
  • You find the title on a site such as Amazon, and just one or a few copies are available, usually used, and all being sold at exorbitant prices. A 200-page book for $350, anyone?

I encourage you to send your book ideas so I can follow up and determine whether they can be considered for republication in the Classics in Applied Mathematics series. You can contact me at Murphy@siam.org.

Sara Murphy is the acquisitions editor in the Books Department at SIAM.

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