In it, he laments his daughter’s lack of interest in Heinlein, Asimov and other sci-fi masters. She reads, he hastens to point out. But she reads her own books, as he did in his youth.
This would, on the surface, seem to be a defence to all the hand-wringing. Who cares if the TPP increases the duration of copyright if, as Scalzi asserts, the shelf life of the average best-seller—in YA, anyway, where the audience ages out of the genre—is ten years anyway?
But that, I think, is precisely the point in favour of shorter copyright durations. If people aren’t going to be interested in it when it becomes free, in 70 year what makes you think that a mere 50 years out, they’ll be interested, and pay for it?
Scalzi points out, correctly, that one of the big issues with the classics he remembers is their discoverability:
“As a practical matter, classic science fiction isn’t selling where today’s kids are buying (or where they are being bought for), namely, in the YA section of the book store. See for yourself: Walk into your local bookstore, head to the YA racks and try to find a science fiction or fantasy-themed book that more than fifteen years old.”
He’s right; even the not-dead-yet authors seem to fall into just three categories: current, and popular; current, and not that popular, or not-so-current, but niche. And by niche I mean local (quick, how many Americans have heard if, say, David Adams Richards or Gail Bowen?) or academic (see: the enduring popularity of Alice Munro, whose lone ‘novel’ I studied three separate times in university). People aren’t buying many of those books for fun!
So where does that leave the classics? And where does that leave the not-yet-classics? That is a difficult question. I personally believe in the public domain more as a principle than as an actual source of reading material. I think that all creators draw upon a well of common culture in their own education and coming of age, which influences their work, albeit at times subconsciously. And I think it is only fair that their own creative products thereby join that common pool of culture for other creators to draw upon someday, after a reasonable—but not excessive—term of copyright has ended.
But I have to admit, when I have the choice myself to make use of this common pool directly, I seldom do. Most of the books I read are current ones, even though the classics are freely available. Most of the movies I watch are current ones, even though the Internet Archive has full-length features available for free.
I think many people hear people like me argue about the public domain and assume it is because we are reluctant to pay or content. That is not what it is about at all; most of it, as Scalzi points out, is so dated that most contemporary customers won’t read it for free, let alone for money. To me, it is about allowing new works to be created (see: Gregory Maguire’s ‘Wicked’ series) without the impediment of regulation, just as the original works on which these new ones are based once were. It is about preserving the principle of a common pool of knowledge an culture and history that everyone can enrich and draw upon.