Book Club Sets

by Craig Stark

3 February 2014

Surprisingly Consistent and Frequent Profits

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I've talked about something I call bread-and-butter bookselling more than once but without going into much detail. By "bread-and-butter" books, I mean those books that we not only happen upon frequently but also sell quickly - and for money worth bothering with, say, $30, $50, $100 or more. These aren't blockbuster outcomes but they're consistent, and a consistent income deriving from at least part of our inventory can help during those months - for some of us it's the summer - when sales cool down.

Another aspect of bread-and-butter books is value durability. These aren't books that surge in demand and fade; they maintain value over time. As good an example as any: Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking.


First published in 1961, this book has maintained its value over 53 years. First Editions in good condition with dust jackets are four-figure books, but even early printings often get into three-figures. These aren't common enough to be classified as bread-and-butter books but later printings, even book club editions certainly are, and if the book itself is in good condition, dust jackets aren't necessary to butter the bread. And - most likely I don't need to tell you that they pop up at sales all the time.

A good example of a book that isn't a bread-and-butter book but behaved like one for several years is Dan Brown's The Da Vinci code.

First published in 2003, values spiked quickly for First Editions and for some months stayed in the three-figure range, this despite a huge first print run. Values then came down, but slowly, and for perhaps the next five or six years $50 and up was still doable - this was what I would call its false bread-and-butter period - and of course it didn't hurt that a movie was released in 2006. Today, however, First Editions may struggle to make $10. Things may eventually head north again, somewhat, but for now, this is a book I leave on the table. And it's on the table pretty often.

Anyway, with this definition in mind, I'm going to discuss a group of legitimate bread-and-butter books that many booksellers leave on the table - book club sets. Most of us know that buyers love sets, and even if they're book club editions, well, they still look more or less impressive on a shelf. What's more, many of them are dirt common because they are book club editions, that is, many book clubs have a history of issuing far more copies than their respective trade publishers.

The Book-of-the-Month Club has an especially long history of issuing sets in large numbers.

In some cases, the Club first issued these as single volumes as they were published. A good example of this is Winston Churchill's The Second World War series.

The first volume, The Gathering Storm, was issued in 1948, and the last, Triumph and Tragedy, in 1953. Once all six volumes had been completed, the set was often offered as an incentive for joining the Club and was also distributed as a Book Dividend to members. Speaking of large numbers, look at this from an April, 1966 BOMC publication:

Of course, not all sets will do. Collectibility and in some cases content factors into this. In this context, is Churchill's set a bread-and-butter item? In spades, I'd say. Many, many sets are still out there, and there are many buyers for them, even if copies don't rise above a grade level of Good. Understandably, outcomes are maximized when condition is better than Good, and the presence of dust jackets enhances things, though it's difficult to find jacketed sets with spine panels that haven't faded. Over the years, I suspect I've made more money off this set than any other book club set.

Are there many more sets like this? I wouldn't say many, but there are enough of them to make encounters pretty darn common at sales, and if you go to a lot of sales, there's no reason why you shouldn't bank a thousand bucks, perhaps several thousand, annually if you capitalize on them.

I've prepared a special PDF report on what, in my experience, have been the top ten best bread-and-butter book club sets, along with some marketing tips, pricing guidelines, illustrations, etc. (One universally applicable tip, by the way, is to not put these up for auction on eBay with a low opening bid - in fact, auctions may not be the best approach at all.) These sets are likely old news to experienced booksellers, but for booksellers newer to the game, maybe not. Anyway, if you're interested in getting the skinny on the other nine sets, $9.99 will make it happen. Email me at and I'll pass along an invoice. If interest is significant, I'll install it permanently on BookThink's Store page.

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