by Timothy Doyle

#114, 18 February 2008

Exceptions to the Rule
The Science Fiction Book Club

Collecting Science Fiction

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There is a thread on the BookThink forum started by someone asking advice on the value of a book club edition of a collectible cookbook. Regular contributor WoodTek Books replied with this:

"The rule of thumb is that book club editions are nearly worthless. The problem is that in bookselling 90% of the big breaks you'll ever get are exceptions to one rule or another. Welcome aboard our ship of contradictions!"

This is an extremely important observation, and one that I believe is one of the keys to becoming a successful book seller. First, learn the rules - then learn when they don't apply.

Coincidentally - or synchronously, if you will - when I read this post from WoodTek Books, I was in the middle of researching this column, in which I present a number of Science Fiction Book Club editions all of which have good to excellent resale value. I was trying to think of a good intro to the column, and the BookThink forum served it up ready-made.

My method for compiling this list was simple. I started with the Abebooks advanced search page. I entered "SFBC" in the keywords field, and then selected Highest Price as the sort order. A quick scan of the first several pages of results gave me an initial list of titles and authors to work from. I then researched individual titles on both Abebooks and on Amazon. I find that checking both of these sites is a good method for getting a feel for value - sometimes a title with just a few high priced listings on ABE will have several more moderate priced copies on Amazon, or vice-versa. And a title that is scarce and high priced on both ABE and Amazon is much more likely to sell in the neighborhood of that higher price.

To anyone who repeats my search strategy, be aware that there was a UK publisher known as the Science Fiction Book Club. This was in no way associated with the US publisher of the same name, and many of the UK titles are scarce and collectible. When looking at the results from the search described above, pay attention to the publication city. The UK publisher will show London, while the US publisher will show New York or Garden City.

In researching the results of the search, I was struck by two observations. First, the highest priced titles from the US SFBC were for signed copies of highly collectible authors such as Philip K. Dick, Ursula K. Le Guin, or Philip Pullman. I've excluded these from my research, since a large part of the value lies in the signature and not in the book itself.

Second, I noticed two major themes in the list of exceptional SFBC titles. First, many of these titles were from "classic" SF authors - names like Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and E.E. "Doc" Smith. Second, nearly all of these titles are omnibus editions - that is, editions in which two or more titles previously published separately have been released together in a single volume, sometimes with a new introduction. These two themes combined may be considered a flashpoint, though more research is needed to show how accurate it is.

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Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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