Rare Book Monthly

Articles - July - 2007 Issue

In The News: Smiley Restitution Upped to $2.3 Million, Amazon to Get More Print-on-Demand Books

Booksurge

BookSurge's new contracts mean more print-on-demand books for Amazon.


By Michael Stillman

Final restitution figures for convicted map thief E. Forbes Smiley were raised from an earlier estimate of $1.9 million to $2.3 million. The higher amount was ordered after a thorough investigation of the value of the maps he admitted to stealing. The money will be used to repay map sellers and libraries that purchased the maps he stole. Smiley admitted to stealing 100 maps, 96 of which have been recovered. Some have questioned whether there might have been more, but prosecutors were sufficiently satisfied with his cooperation to recommend the 3 1/2 year sentence he received, half of what it might have been if he had been less cooperative.

Smiley admittedly stole maps from several major libraries, including Yale University, Harvard, the Newberry, New York Public, Boston Public, and the British Library in London. His modus operandi was to slice valuable old maps out of antiquarian texts with a razor. He was captured after an alert librarian noticed he had dropped a razor beneath a table where he was working. He was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison last September after pleading guilty to the 100 thefts.

Whether the increase in the amount of restitution will have any practical effect remains to be seen. It is questionable whether Smiley will be able to produce enough to pay back $1.9 million, let alone $2.3 million. Financial difficulties may have been part of the explanation for his thefts in the first place. His ability to come up with millions of dollars now could well be a stretch.

In a related story, former Rockland County [New York] Historical Society curator Rebecca Chen was arrested for stealing a valuable American atlas from her former employer. The atlas, Henry Tanner's New American Atlas, published in 1823, is likely worth something north of $50,000, perhaps as much as $80,000. Chen sent emails to booksellers, including one in Philadelphia who was suspicious. Police were there to meet Ms. Chen when she arrived at the shop with her book.

BookSurge announced they have signed up more publishers for its print-on-demand service. Among those publishers for whom they will print out-of-print titles on demand are HarperCollins, McGraw Hill and John Wiley. On another front, BookSurge entered into an agreement with Kirtas Technologies, a scanning/digitization firm, to digitize many older books to add to its print-on-demand library. Among the libraries that have signed up to make their collections available for the project are Emory University, University of Maine, the Cincinnati and Toronto Public Libraries.

Unlike Google Book, which is in the process of scanning millions of rare books from the collections of some of the world's most prestigious libraries, and then making them accessible without charge via the internet, BookSurge's titles will be available on a print-on-demand basis, with a fee attached. Those fees would be shared by BookSearch and the institutions which provide the books. BookSurge also uses its print-on-demand capacity to print self-published books for current authors in need of a publisher. BookSurge is owned by Amazon, purchased by the latter about two years ago. We assume we will be seeing more print-on-demand titles coming to that site soon.

Rare Book Monthly

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