The Repairer of Reputations: The Danger Mark by Robert Chambers

Hype & Correction

Troughs Collectibility is scarcity: an item that more people want than could possibly have. Sometimes this is because of a misprint, a dust jacket or a signature. More often, this is simply down to not having enough of the first edition handy to meet the long-term demand for it.

Where this gets confused is with the hype. 

Publicists, marketers and obsessive fans will drive up the perceived scarcity of the book before it comes out. Then, six months later, when hardcovers are still sitting placidly on the shelves, we're forced to reappraise whether or not the book was quite that collectible in the first place. (And, more importantly, why did I buy 3?!) 

When it comes down to it, within six months, the most books will be worth less than their face value. What is it that makes a hardcover worth more than the paperback that costs half the price? If the consumer demand for hardcovers was met in the first place, well... not much.

Here are a few recent books that shone briefly, and are now back down to join the rest of the mortals. This is, by no means a reflection on the book or the author - just the weird, weird way that collectibility works. 

Of course, you should be buying books because you want to read them. The rest is just fantasy...

Farlander (Col Buchanan): This shit-hot "dark fantasy" release was regularly hitting £50, with proof copies at obscene prices. Now, signed copies are priced on or around the RRP (recommended retail price) of £17.99, but not moving very quickly. 

The Left Hand of God (Paul Hoffman): Penguin's big foray into fantasy was flagged as a major catch - and judging by the wall of copies at the London Book Fair, they're hoping it goes even further. The asking price for a signed first is now stuck pretty thoroughly at £30. This isn't bad, except, according to eBay's recent history, nobody's nibbling at that price... (nb. this book seemed to do well in the recent US launch. There may be a brief overseas market for flogging the UK true first.)

The Year of Our War (Steph Swainston): This one kills me. Swainston never reached the astronomical heights of hype that the others on this list achieved, but she did come a lot closer to winning a major award. Even with the fourth book in the series out now, collectible copies (signed firsts) of Swainston's debut novel are lingering at, or even below, RRP.

The Adamantine Palace (Stephen Deas): The jury is still out on this one. Abebooks is all over the place, but eBay seems to settling in with collectible (signed, etc) copies still selling at RRP but going unsold above it. It looks like it is finding its price point. 

Heart-Shaped Box (Joe Hill): Another odd one. There's a very, very big gap between the average selling prices of an unsigned first edition (about 10-25% of RRP) and the average asking price of a signed first edition (200%+ RRP). Signed copies are still moving at RRP (curiously, this also includes one of the Subterranean Press limited editions). This could still go either way - either enough signed copies become available to meet demand (not impossible, given that Hill is alive and frequently touring) or Hill's reputation grows faster than that demand can be met (also not impossible - Stephen King is an example of someone with cheap first editions and an incredibly valuable signature).

In the next post on collectibles, I'll crunch the numbers a bit and come up with five recent books that have had more collectible launches: hype and plateaus.