by Craig Stark

#124, 14 September 2008

133 Book Club Editions
That Are Actually Worth Something!

Issue #53

Among the myths circulated among booksellers, experienced and inexperienced alike, is that book club editions aren't worth bothering with (by "worth something" I mean $20, $30 or more, sometimes $50, $100 or more). And, like many other myths about bookselling, there are exceptions. What may come as a surprise to some of you, however, is that exceptions to this particular myth are so numerous that it becomes near foolish to reject book club editions out of hand when scouting. In a 2003 BookThinker article, I noted six categories of exceptions that are perhaps worth revisiting:

"First, some BCE's are in fact the first appearance (sometimes the only appearance) of a title in print - that is, the actual first edition, first printing, first you-name-it. Though not common, coming across this exception can make your day. Examples: The First Edition Society of the Franklin Library has produced a number of these titles, and Peter Matthiessen's Under the Mountain Wall is a relatively notorious example that appeared in two separate book club editions before reaching trade status.

"Second, some BCE's are the first appearance of a book in hardback form - a common occurrence in the Science Fiction and Mystery genres. Though not first editions, these are sometimes marginally collectible notwithstanding. Also, and more often, they may be in demand as reading copies because collectible paperbacks, for obvious reasons, are rarely handled for any purpose, least of all reading.

"Third, some BCE's command relatively strong prices (a trickle-down phenomenon) if their trade edition counterparts are intensely collectible. J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye stands as a shining example.

"Fourth, some BCE's, especially vintage titles in dust jackets by collectible authors, are desirable simply on the basis of their own scarcity. Collectors of P.G. Wodehouse, for example, often have difficulty locating, let alone affording, first trade editions in dust jackets on titles predating 1940. They will, however, sometimes slake their thirst by purchasing early BCE's or reprints in what are fast becoming relatively scarce dust jackets.

"Fifth, Reader's Digest Condensed Books are nearly always roundly rejected by booksellers, but believe it or not, very early examples of these have become moderately collectible.

"Finally, some book clubs produce richly upgraded, limited editions which are collectible in their own right, and prices for these sometimes exceed prices for the corresponding first trade editions. Easton Press, Limited Editions Club, Franklin Library, Book Club of California - all venerable examples."

Of the six categories, the third is by far the most productive for booksellers - and most of the titles in my list fall into this. Getting your price for these isn't always automatic, however. There are several important ifs:

If #1: The BCE in question should in almost all cases be the first BCE appearance, which often (but not always) corresponds to the issue date of the trade edition. This is especially important when issue points are involved and the title is intensely collected - for example, the BCE of To Kill a Mockingbird.

If #2: Since most BCEs with value are fiction, condition is huge. Hypermoderns should in almost all cases be in F/F condition, moderns in VG/VG condition or better, to produce desired outcomes. Obviously, dust jackets are all but essential.

If #3: Desired outcomes are more often than not realized on eBay with better than average presentations, not on fixed-price venues. Re If #3: This list was pruned from my scouting book list of over 300 titles strong. Essentially, the removed titles were fruit waiting to be plucked - opportunities for arbitrage - that is, over time there have been and perhaps still are copies of these titles on fixed-price venues priced well under $10 with corresponding eBay comparables, if any, at much higher levels. The resulting list below, therefore, includes only titles that are more actively collected and are likelier to show stronger pricing across multiple venues over time.

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Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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