Monday, March 24, 2008

The Dawning Age of the Superbooks

Via The Morning News, comes this story from the Independent about the new market for "superbooks." These gargantuan tomes, typically priced over $2,000 (₤1,000), "target wealthy sports enthusiasts – the kind who can afford a corporate box at a cup final." German publisher Taschen has long led the field in this category, producing the fabulously expensive Muhammad Ali GOAT book, Helmut Newton's Sumo, and other books costing multiple thousands of dollars and requiring their own structural supports.

Two stories from my bookselling past come to mind whenever I think of these superbooks. A few years ago, I was working in a bookstore in Hollywood when a starlet bought our last remaining copy of Sumo, a book that weighed about 100 pounds, table included. We kept it in the basement, so once the transaction was finished, I crawled down there to get it. After dragging it up the stairs, through the store, and out onto the street, the starlet pulled up to load the book into her...Porsche Roadster. A car so small she was lucky to fit into it (and she wasn't a large woman). She apologized for making me carry the book up the stairs for nothing, and asked me if I would please hold it for her, back down in the basement, until her assistant could come the following day with a truck to pick it up. Soaked in sweat and gasping for air, I shrugged nonchallantly and said, "Yeah, you know, it's cool, whatever, tomorrow's cool." She squeezed my shoulder and thanked me.

A year or two later, I was managing a store in Orange County, and we carried the limited edition GOAT, priced at about $12,500, I believe. One day a gentleman wearing jeans, a t-shirt, and flip-flops came into the store and asked to see the GOAT display copy we had (Taschen was good enough to send along a sample, complete with a stand to hold it). After a few minutes of flipping through the display copy, he bought it. In fact, he bought three of them, for well over $30,000. And he paid in cash. And I spent half an hour making sure none of the hundreds he gave me were counterfeit.

1 Comments:

At 5:14 PM, Blogger Don said...

I used to dwell in the book arts world. Four figures for a book was not uncommon, and I seem to remember a few five figure books. Andrew Hoyem's Arion Press is one publisher who has some seriously pricey books, although looking at their site, I find the prices seem a lot more reasonable to me now than they did 15 years ago. I guess I've changed.

 

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