Calm, Cool, Collected

Now, I want to discuss this VERY carefully. We shall all be calm and quiet about this. I don’t want you to feel that you’ve been cheated or stupid or foolish or anything like that. Because I have done the same thing, and if I call you names, why, as the ancient Greek poet said, you’re rubber and I’m glue. (I forget which ancient poet said that. Fred, I think.)

I want to discuss the Manufactured Collectible. You find these in every field of human endeavor (see some of those catalogsa that have been clogging your mailbox lately), but we can stick to books, if you’d like. Some books are published to be read, some are published to be looked at, some are published just to be bought. And SOME of that last category are published to be Collected. These may be SIGNED or they may be LIMITED EDITIONS or they may be both. But what the seller wants you to remember is that you have purchased something Exclusive, something which people Collect.

The problem is that many people think—and the publisher is counting on us to think—that Collectible and Valuable mean the same thing. You are encouraged to buy this because you want to Collect it, but a little imp is commissioned by the publisher to whisper in your ear, “Buy this because Other People Collect It. One day you will resell it and make $$$$! It’s a Collectible.”

I don’t know who said it first, but I heard it first from bookseller Thomas J. Joyce: even if a limited edition book does increase in value, it does so very slowly. So many people know it’s a Collectible that no one throws it away. Hundreds of people bought the exclusive edition and saved it, hoping to finance a new home in the mountains somewhere, or a cottage on the beach. So if only 1500 copies were printed in the first place, fifty years from now about 1457 will still be around. Whereas that cheap paperback copy of Galoshes of Doom, of which 12,000 copies were sold when it came out, so many will have been tossed in the fire by disgusted librarians that only 169 copies will be around when the author wins his Nobel Prize. THAT’S the book that will buy you a Jaguar.

This is not to say that no signed limited editions will ever increase in value. (I did mention that signed limited Ulysses, didn’t I, which now starts at $35,000 if your grandfather bought the deluxe edition?) And I’m not saying that those of you who rushed to buy the Collectible reprint of the Chicago Tribune from last year’s election will never see it realize the price you paid on eBay. (You may have to wait until 2108, but your day will come.)

All I really want to do is cite book expert A. Edward Newton, who said if you want to invest money to make money, do it with stocks or bonds or real estate you never visit. If you buy books, buy something you like, and then if it never appreciates in value, you at least have something nice to read.  That’s a dividend the Market can’t affect.

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