ferrari_opus The Wall Street Journal has an article on luxury books that is interesting and, in parts, a little creepy. For special, extremely limited editions of their books, some publishers do things like include bits of moon rock with a lunar photography book, or mix a pint of a celebrity’s blood with the paper pulp used to print the signature page of a book about him. Then they sell the books in question for 5- or 6-figure sums per copy, and expect the books to appreciate in value as time goes by.

"No one says, ‘I want to download the e-edition of this book,’ " says book analyst Michael Norris of research firm Simba Information. "If it’s a physical object that’s beautifully done, people see the value."

It is true that this is one way to sell print rather than e-books—but not very many of them. I’m reminded of the old joke about the watermelon cart that had its melons priced at one million dollars each. A passer-by exclaimed, “You’ll never sell any watermelons at that price!” and the vendor replied, “I only need to sell one.”

Of course, on a less expensive scale, making a physical book an object d’art is a way to find a market for it that won’t be threatened by e-book sales. The question is whether the market will be composed of readers or art collectors, and which is more beneficial to the continued existence of the publisher.


  1. Ah, but will the buyers of these luxury editions actually read them? It seems far more likely they’ll keep them as collectors’ items or display items, and then have another copy of the book to actually read, and that might as well be an ebook as anything else.

  2. I think Frode’s comment is on the mark. Back in the 1980s when comics were, briefly, collectible and pretty much all #1, people bought comics and immediately stored them in their acid-free special bags. Fair enough, but if you don’t read it, is it really a book? Or is it a collectible brick?

    I hadn’t heard about the blood in the pulp thing. That is gross beyond words.

    Rob Preece

  3. Buyers of luxury editions likely not interested in e-book versions.

    Buyers of e-book versions likely not interested in luxury editions.

    Symmetry is very elegant, sometimes significant, but likely not interesting.

    Jack Tingle

  4. I think that we’re going to be shocked at how quickly print-format media (books) becomes a luxury, specialty good.

    It’ll be just like physical-format music shifting from vinyl to CD. It was almost overnight–certainly less than five years–that vinyl stopped being the standard and became a niche. Yes, it’s a still-extant and thriving niche, with plenty of new stuff coming in that format and a lot of applications, but nobody’s pretending that vinyl has any presence in the contemporary mass market.

    Print-format media is going to go the same way. Stuff like we see in the WSJ article will become the standard, rather than a weird outlier. And, as Frode points out, most of these things will be collector’s pieces or artworks, and the actual reader’s copy will be on a device just like everything else.

  5. One of the more bizarre articles for weeks… people who are lovers of luxury hard copy books not likely to buy ebooks ? Mmm… isn’t that like saying Bentley owners are not likely to travel in the new buses being launched in London ? Aren’t some things so self evident that we should be spared the need to be told about them …. ?
    “Harrods customers unlikely to be lured by the pound shop opening across the street! LOL

The TeleRead community values your civil and thoughtful comments. We use a cache, so expect a delay. Problems? E-mail