Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Limited editions have to be limited

The other day, I was reading the comments on a Facebook announcement about a new limited edition book. (Yes, a Nick Farrell limited edition book.) And one of the commenters said that perhaps in the future that the author would consider reissuing the material in another edition or perhaps even in ebook form. At this point, I must admit that I sadly shook my head because I realized that the commenter was overlooking a basic fact about the limited edition book market.

If "limited edition" is being used as a sales tactic, then the edition truly has to be limited.

Limited edition sales tactics depend upon just a handful of things to quickly and completely sell out their print run--a very limited number of copies, the author's authority, the rarity of the information, and keeping one's word about the number of copies that are going to be issued.

Limited edition sales tactics also can benefit from deluxe editions (fine leather covers, signed and numbered copies), but for the most part, it is the rarity of the limited copies that drive the success of the sales tactic.

The things that can hurt the success of a limited edition include poor information and burning your previous customers (there are some publishers that I will never buy a limited edition from ever again, simply because they seem to think slapping the words "limited edition" on poorly written and formatted crap ensures a steady income). Poor economic times can also hurt the success of a limited edition (heavens knows that I currently can't afford to buy any books--limited edition or not).

But the number one thing that can hurt the success of a limited edition is for the customers to believe that you are going to print more copies in the future. (I am not talking deluxe editions here, which go hand in hand with a regular edition--deluxe editions are brought often simply because they are a luxury or better printed than the regular version--no, I am talking about true limited "only X number of copies will be printed" editions here.) If the customer believes that you are going to later republish, either with more copies, or in a cheaper form, the urgency for them to quickly buy a copy fades.

And if the customer has been burned before by an author or publisher deciding to print more copies than they originally promised to, good luck at selling them anything that you chose to label limited edition.

It is the rarity that drives the sales of limited editions. Period. End of sentence.

Now, rarity is not affected by some things. For instance, piracy does not affect limited editions. (Or at least, no one has ever showed me credible research to prove that piracy affects limited edition book sales.) The initial rarity of a limited edition is not affected by piracy because there is no promise that a book is going to be scanned and uploaded to the pirate sites. And piracy (if it actually occurs) does not affect the long term value of a limited edition either, for the physical copy is actually king when it comes to the second hand and collectable market.

(For those who are curious, I used to be in the collectable market at one point both as a seller and a collector. The rules have not changed, despite the presence of ebooks and pirate sites, as a quick hunt on eBay shows.)

So the poor soul--and by "poor," I mean that their budget is like mine, without any room for luxuries--asking if someday the author might change their mind and print more copies, is barking up the wrong tree. No working writer with knowledge of the publishing field would dare break their word about the number of copies that they were going to print, especially in a niche market such as Golden Dawn (which has a couple thousand members who all know one another). Any author daring to break their word would rapidly destroy their ability to quickly move copies of any future limited edition. And no intelligent or hungry writer would want to do that injustice to their own writing career.


Parzival418 said...

I bought a limited edition book by a certain McMurtry A.'.A.'. leader that was going to never ever be reprinted but was so riddled with cut & paste errors, typos and similar issues that I feel burnt on the purchase. Is it a bad book? No but damn, it makes the author/editor look like he doesn't give a damn about himself releasing a limited edition book that will NEVER EVER be reprinted with that many errors and rehash of paragraphs. He at least insulted his buyers in this endeavor.

Unknown said...

The limited hardback idea is a good way of testing the waters before sending to a publisher. It also means that I can release stuff that is not commercial or dumbed down. I then have something I can show a commercial printer for a paperback run. The newer version would be different more commercial. My limited runs are also very very limited by publishing standards (100 copies is nothing) so the value is still high.

Morgan Drake Eckstein said...

Nick, that is a good point. And yes, I probably should have made it clear that information from limited edition books can be repackaged for a more commercial project. One of the things that I am currently working on might end up with a reworked version later on.