March 13, 2007

This will probably be a lengthy, dangerously incoherent, and convoluted post. There've been a lot of book-related issues that I've been wanting to get off my chest for awhile now and a recent solicitation has pushed me over the edge.

My beef is with publishers who produce lettered editions of their titles, charge out the wazoo, and yet offer virtually nothing in return. This is, so far as I can tell, pretty unique to the publishing industry. Think about it - when you pay a premium for a loaded car, a decked-out house, a watch, a ring, a computer, etc, you get something in return. In the case of the car, it could be a sunroof or GPS. A house could add a bedroom, bathroom, or even an extra story. A watch could come with fancy inlays. Rings could be more precisely cut and have more carats. A computer could add a large flat-screen monitor and a faster CPU. All these options can be purchased and you obtain something real and hopefully satisfying in return.

Not so with books. Some companies believe that the simple inscription of an alphabetic character with an associated 15, 26, or 52 limitation notice somehow adds value to a production over and above a numbered edition. The book itself could otherwise be identical, but the perceived greater scarcity of a letter over a number somehow justifies anywhere between a two- to five-fold increase in asking price.

When you think long and hard about it, this is pretty absurd. How does serializing a book with a letter versus a number mean that book is any more scarce than the next? Why does a letter have a greater perceived endemic value over a number? Simply because only 15 or 26 or 52 letters are hand-generated? What if an author inscribed a Greek symbol - and only one symbol - in a book's print run? Would you be tearing down walls to get that One, Special book, even though its only difference would be the inclusion of that symbol?

The concept of what a lettered edition should be has been perverted by some publishers so that they can charge absurdly high prices for essentially doing nothing in return. I've seen one recent example where a publisher charged FIVE TIMES MORE for a lettered edition simply for the letter, an "extra section", and what I'm sure will be a relatively humdrum traycase. Because of the popularity of the author in question, I'm sure this publisher will have no problems selling his lettered stock. So, who is the bigger fool and who is to blame? The people paying ridiculous premiums for virtually zero added value or the publisher taking advantage of the situation?

Something similar has been occurring with comic-related hardcovers for awhile now, especially on eBay. For some time, bidders have been ravenously pursuing Artist Proof, or A/P, editions of various books. The "A/P" text is substituted for the number. Anywhere between ten to fifty (or more) A/P editions might be manufactured especially for the publisher, artist, family, friends, etc. A/P-serialized books are not intended for general sale. As such, they are highly prized by collectors, almost like they've gotten ahold of a forbidden fruit.  To this end, they will gladly pay double and sometimes triple the MSRP.

And for what? "A <slash> P". That's it. That's all. Nothing more.

IMNSHO, lettered editions are SUPPOSE to be the absolute manufacturing pinnacle of any given book's print run. And by "pinnacle", I don't mean by inches but by yards. Not only are they suppose to be serialized accordingly, but they should look VASTLY different than their numbered counterparts. Far better binding should be utilized with different boards. Beautiful traycases are a necessity. Onlays and inlays should not be ruled out. Extra artwork could be added. How about completely different paper and gilt? Embedded bookmarks? If you are paying orders more for a lettered a book, shouldn't this be a given rather than a hope?

I'll probably be branded a heretic for writing this, but what the author and/or artist inscribes in a limitation page has NO value in and of itself. That's not to say it isn't desired or necessary, simply that whatever is written on that page should not dictate a book's MSRP. After all, ask yourself, what is the real difference in having book #1 or book #417? Or letter A versus EE? The limitation page simply differentiates one book from another and is the proverbial cherry on top of a hopefully delicious cake. It is NOT the cake itself and nor should it be.

Why would you pay an exorbitant premium to own a lettered book when the numbered edition was essentially the same? For the honor and glory of owning a lettered copy? To pay through the nose to get that little alphabet, but receive nothing in return?

C'mon, you're smarter than that! You don't have to play such a pointless, wallet-sucking game. And I'm happy to report that some publishers ARE going the extra distance for their lettered titles. Examine the offerings of Bloodletting Press, Earthling Publications, and Necessary Evil Press to name but three. The people behind these companies recognize the importance of separating their higher-priced lettered books from their numbered editions in all the right ways.

In short, expect and demand something for all that money you've plunked down for a lettered book. You deserve it.