Saturday, December 12, 2009

New Value in Old Books

This article—“All That's Old is New Again”—discusses the market for print-on-demand copies of rare books. What is most interesting about this is the acknowledgment of consumer interest in particular features of specific editions (e.g., early illustrated editions) and even particular copies of books (e.g., association copies). From the article:
Consider this curious example. In December 2008, Titles Bookstore at McMaster created a very plain text slim volume of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol. With very simply formatted text and a “no frills” cover much like the “no name” brand packaging style, this slim volume was made available for retail sale at the cost of printing, which was $2.50. At the same time, a McMaster Library replica version (a scanned replica of one of the first print runs of the timeless Dickens classic, complete with original illustrations, publisher ads, and which was about three times the size of the thinner volume) was produced and retailed for $14.99.

Last December, over 40 copies of the more expensive original edition replica were sold, while the more affordable version that tells the exact same story has still not sold a single copy. The good news is that the replica versions include a “fund-raising” proceeds fee, allowing the campus library to generate revenue. So while customers benefit from having access to a rare edition of a book for the first time, the library is also able to raise operating funds from the sale of that material.
Speaking of Dickens, have a look at his draft of A Christmas Carol (courtesy the Morgan Library and Museum and The New York Times).