Friday, February 20, 2009

Book Club Editions - The Good, Bad, and Ugly

We often see book club editions of works, either offered to us in the shop or at the various library or garage book sales we attend. On occasion we will visit a home and an entire library will contain nothing but book club editions, all looking smart and even in their tidy rows.

At such times I think - I wonder how much bulk pulp paper goes for these days?

Lest you think I am on the verge of forgoing bookselling for recycling, let me explain. Book clubs - Book of the Month Club, the History Book Club, the Science Fiction book club, the Romance Book Club, the Mystery Book Club, etc. etc. etc. supply reasonably priced books to a host of readers across the country. The are currently almost all printed by the Book Club master, Bookspan, a wholly owned subsidiary of the mega media giant Bertlesmann. The books are generally smaller in size than trade editions with different binding and paper. Most are hardcovers, but not all. Many are in standard size and do indeed look quite nice on a shelf. Most are cheaper in price than original editions as well.

In some cases, they are collectible. Some genre fiction sees its first hardcover (or only) edition in book club form, and often the dust jackets reproduce the original designs. This allows a collector to at least have the appearance of some of the earlier important works without the cost of the original editions.

For readers, there are benefits as well. It is sometimes easier to find a hardcover book club edition of a book than a paperback copy. Copies are, as noted above, cheaper than new trade editions. Club membership can also be managed online, certainly an improvement over the old card system.

That said, overall I am not a fan. I will pick up book club editions of science fiction when the dust jackets reproduce the original designs, but beyond that call me Savonarola. Book club book, esp. hardcovers, use lower quality paper and binding than trade editions. They are usually smaller, and sometimes not printed as sharply. In the early days, the book clubs would sometimes sell copies printed by the original publisher and You pay less, and you certainly get less.

They are also confusing and mis-described all over the used book market. Newer book clubs editions are harder to spot, as this article at the Tom Folio website notes, though a more extensive article is needed. Either by lack of attention or education, or by sharp practice, booksellers often offer book club editions as first editions. Many book club dust jackets do not print the price on the flap, and more mercenary booksellers sometimes clip the corner to hide this fact. Others simply do not note that the book is a book club edition, and price it as if it were the original trade edition.

In financially tight times, book clubs can seem like a good deal. But book club books also are not necessarily good value books. While book club editions are cheaper, in many cases waiting a bit will allow you to get a even cheaper used copy of a nice, well made trade edition of the same book. Such a copy will last longer, and have better resale value, than a book club edition. Even with shipping, it is at least no more than the grasping "shipping & handling" charges by the book clubs.

So take a longer term view with book club editions. Think about what you want the book for when you buy - just to read or to collect. Will you want it for a long time, or just for now? And what does a book club really cost compared to a used copy of a better edition? And what is the current price per pound of pulp paper?



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