We all love limited edition goodies.
In fact, to accompany writing this blogpost, I’m listening to my limited edition copy of Laura Marling’s Semper Femina (with bonus extra live CD) and munching on a limited edition packet of Orchards Skittles. Any excuse!
There are various ways in which new books can be limited, and therefore much sought after. They can be:
- signed copies
- first editions
- have a different cover
- have exclusive content
or any combination of the above.
One of the most appealing examples of a limited edition is where the book has sprayed edges.
Sometimes called dipped edges, this is where the edges of the book are sprayed another colour.
These always look stunning, as you can see for yourself on this blogpost, which presents photographs of sprayed books, many of them in flirty bath-time coquette mode, surrounded by sheets, towelling, feathers, fur and something that looks like a cup of milk with an ice cube.
You can also read about sprayed edges on this fascinating Hodder blog and in this informative Pan Macmillan article about book finishes.
(Now there are no excuses to get your embossing confused with your debossing.)
So. Let’s suppose for a minute that you are an avid book reader or collector and you are interested in securing a limited edition sprayed-edged book.
Maybe your friend owns one, or you saw a photo of one on Twitter and were impressed, or possibly seduced.
Where would you go in order to have a chance of buying one?
Their appearance on the two publisher blogs (above) would seem to give the impression that sprayed-edged editions must be pretty industry-wide.
So how about trying an Indie Bookshop?
After all, many Indie Bookshops offer a highly-curated, unique shopping experience, where books are presented as luxury items.
Good call, you might think.
This is a list of exclusive limited sprayed editions that have been available to buy at Waterstones in the last 18 months (Sep 2016 onwards):
- Stef Penney – Under A Pole Star (blue edges) Quercus
- Donal Ryan – All We Shall Know (blue edges, signed) Doubleday
- Veronica Roth – Carve The Mark (blue edges) Harper Collins
- Carrie Hope Fletcher – On The Other Side (green edges, signed, extra chapters) Sphere
- Angie Thomas – The Hate U Give (yellow edges, extra chapter) Walker Books
- Imogen Hermes Gower – The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock (blue edges, signed) Harvill Secker
- Haruki Murakami – Hear The Wind Sing and Pinball 1973 (sprayed edges, 3d glasses, 3d design) Vintage
- Francis Hardinge – Skinful of Shadows (green edges, signed) Macmillan
- Cressida Cowell – Wizards of Once (orange edges, signed, extra pages) Hodder & Stoughton
- Jane Harper – Force of Nature (orange edges, signed by author) Little Brown
- Abi Elphinstone – Sky Song (green edges) Simon & Schuster
- Pierce Brown – Iron Gold (gold edges, signed) Hodder & Stoughton
- Mary Paulson Ellis – The Other Mrs Walker (red edges, signed) Picador
- Sarah Schmidt – See What I have Done (orange edges) Tinder Press
- Erik Axl Sund – The Crow Girl (blue edges) Vintage
- Jay Kristoff – Godsgrave (black edges) Harper Voyager
- Katherine Webber – Wing Jones (pink edges) Walker Books
- Daniel Cole – Ragdoll (orange edges) Trapeze
- Joseph Knox – Sirens (orange edges, extra story) Black Swan
- Maz Evans – Simply The Quest (Light blue edges, lightning motif) Chicken House
- M.G. Leonard – Beetle Queen and Battle of the Beetles (sprayed, patterned edges) Chicken House
- Laura Barnett – Greatest Hits (blue edges, bonus material) W & N
- Sarah J Maas – Tower of Dawn (sprayed, exclusive bookmark) Bloomsbury
- Michelle Paver – Thin Air (green edges) Orion
- Robert Harris – Munich (red edges, bespoke illustration) Hutchinson
Quite a few, and this list is by no means complete.
In comparison, this is a list of exclusive limited sprayed editions that have been available to buy at my Indie Bookshop over the same period of time:
Not very many, as you can see. None in fact.
Frankly, I could have slept with more authors than this.
Yes, there seems to be a big fat Sprayed-Edged Party going on at the publishers, but with only one retailer invited.
A few thoughts on this:
- Every sprayed book sent to Waterstones makes it harder for other bookshops to sell the same title, as limited sprayed editions are more likely to sell before unlimited non-sprayed, particularly as there is no extra cost involved in buying the former.
I doubt anyone is buying two copies, one sprayed and one unsprayed.
Therefore Waterstones, for a particular sprayed-edition title, are guaranteed a far bigger percentage of sales than other retailers.
There is a considerable sales shift in their favour on these titles.
It is conceivable that a customer might choose to buy a book by an unknown author simply because the book is sprayed, but again, only Waterstones seem to be allowed to reap the benefits of this.
- Although a publisher might see no harm in supplying the occasional sprayed book to Waterstones, when you look at the whole picture, Waterstones are receiving an almost constant supply of sprayed books from right across the publishing industry.
This creates a situation where they alone become known for stocking limited books and so become the first port of call for many book lovers.
Publishers are helping Waterstones gain an advantage over other booksellers.
- Customers who are loyal to Independent Bookshops, who are trying to shop locally and support small businesses, are being penalised, by not having access to sprayed books and special editions.
So an unfortunate element of sacrifice is involved in supporting an Indie Bookshop.
- You may be tempted to look at the above list and think:
“Well, it’s just a small matter. Most books aren’t sold this way.”
OK. Let’s suppose that each one of these sprayed books was produced as a limited run of 1000 copies.
This is actually a conservative estimate: here is Donal Ryan signing his way through 2000 copies of his publisher’s exclusive Waterstones edition.
(Is that door behind him locked from the outside?).
1000 sold copies of each of the sprayed titles identified above, would earn Waterstones 272760.00 pounds: over two hundred and seventy two thousand pounds.
2000 copies of each would put more than half a million pounds through Waterstones’ tills.
Neither of these figures seem like a small matter to me.
This is a heavy one-way payload of exclusivity heading Waterstones’ way, and a lot of it at the expense of other shops.
- None of this takes into account other non-sprayed special editions offered freely to Waterstones, such as this special edition of The BFG with never-seen-before illustrations from Quentin Blake, courtesy of Penguin Books.
Obviously, Indie Bookshops haven’t sold any Roald Dahl or Quentin Blake books down the years, so it would have been stupid to offer us anything like this.
You could add to this: the exclusive stamped Faber edition of 2023 by The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu (shelve next to James Joyce), the many Vintage Classic paperbacks with limited edition covers, the paperback of Essex Serpent with limited cover, as presented in this video by the author, or the exclusive edition of Julian Barnes’ Noise of Time with
“French Flaps and promotional blurbs printed to the flaps.”
Actually, that must get the award for the lamest enhanced presentation ever.
I’m almost certain no-one has ever rushed down to a bookshop lured by the enticing prospect that is “promotional blurbs printed to the flaps.”
That aside, this is all yet more exclusive goodies for Waterstones, and still only the tip of the iceberg I suspect.
- James Daunt is very vocally active about the “inequities” of the business rates system currently in the UK.
What exactly is equal about the distribution of sprayed-edged books and special editions as outlined above?
Maybe inequity is only worth piping up about when you are on the receiving end?
- Waterstones did not invent the sprayed edge. Bookshops were receiving sprayed-edged bibles back when James Daunt was just a banker, and probably much earlier than this too. Nor do Waterstones own the sprayed edge equipment, nor do they even pay extra for sprayed editions as far as I understand it.
It is actually more likely that they charge publishers for promotions and space in window displays as this has been the norm for many years in the book trade.(*)
So why are they granted a monopoly on sprayed editions?
|(*) A few people have pointed out that Waterstones do not charge for either of these, so happy to clarify that!|
It is worth pointing out the rare occasion or two when my shop has received a book with sprayed edges.
This happened with the recent Harry Potter House Editions published by Bloomsbury and with the Chris Riddell Goth Girl hardbacks published by Macmillan.
These books are very visually appealing to customers and have sold well in my shop but neither were exclusive to Indies, or limited editions as such.
The whole print run had sprayed edges as far as I know.
So I do love these, but there is no balance being redressed here.
Waterstones will have these too.
I can think of one single occasion where we may have momentarily had an exclusive sprayed book on our shop floor:
In 2016, I received 5 copies of Natasha Pulley’s Watchmaker of Filligree Street in paperback (Bloomsbury Publishing) with bright green page edges.
All five of my copies sold very quickly, and a couple of the customers actually commented on how fortunate they were to find a sprayed edition.
When I re-ordered the book, it was back to receiving the edition with regular non-sprayed pages.
Firstly, this shows me just how flipping easy it is to sell sprayed-edged books.
There really is no work involved in selling them at all: they just fly out and the customers leave the shop happy and enthusiastic.
I’m not suggesting that my regular customers aren’t happy and enthusiastic (well with a few I am) but there is definitely an element of holy grail or rare find involved in buying a limited edition book.
Something is awoken in the customer that does seem to turn an adult back into a child.
(The sense of wonder and excitement, not the snotty nagging bit.)
Certainly, for one moment there, I had a little glimpse of what it must be like to sell books on Easy Street.
What must it be like I wonder for book customers to deliberately head for an Indie Bookshop on publication day, looking for special editions?
Well I don’t know, and publishers don’t seem to be helping me to find out either.
Secondly, I might be wrong but I rather suspect that these five copies were sent to us in error.
Perhaps they were meant for Waterstones but there was some kind of mix-up in the warehouse.
I recently received a box from a publisher with the words Non-Sprayed written in ink on the top.
Yes, God forbid the exciting copies should somehow find their way to the wrong bookshop.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.
At the moment there seems to be a bias towards Waterstones from the publishing industry at the expense of other bookshops, and not just Indies.
The distribution of sprayed books and special editions is just another example.
- Waterstones are allowed to break publisher embargoes with impunity while their Indie neighbours wait.
- They were encouraged to earn a cool 175000 pound windfall on a signed exclusive special edition of the most-awaited book of 2017.
Waterstones, being by far the biggest national high-street bookseller, have a lot of sway over publishers, who in turn are in danger of finding themselves over-reliant on one retailer or in a compromised position where saying “no” can amount to business suicide.
Waterstones recently revealed stunning profits for the year, an 80% jump in profits.
Well, how on earth could they not be doing well, given the preferential treatment they are afforded?
The dice is loaded in their favour.
I do hope the booksellers at Waterstones are getting a good share of those profits.
In regards to exclusive early releases, I want to have a closer look at the relationship between Waterstones and Chicken House Books (part of Scholastic).
I have touched on this before but it is worth going over again.
In 2017, Chicken House published Beetle Queen by M.G. Leonard, a paperback original, and number two in a popular series for kids.
They not only supplied Waterstones with an exclusive sprayed-edged patterned edition, they also gave them a four-week head start over other bookshops.
The patterned editions were naturally hugely popular with the public, who happily tweeted photos of their limited edition purchase.
This, and further tweeting by Waterstones’ own branches and promotion by the author (“So hurry, get down to Waterstones…”) caused yet more people to descend on Waterstones, while all other booksellers had to watch and wait for four weeks on the side-lines.
The author was made available to sign many of these pre-release copies in Waterstones.
In my own shop, customers cancelled their orders or failed to pick up their pre-ordered copy in order to go to Waterstones. I’m not even that near one!
I wasn’t happy (you probably gathered that) but given the circumstances and the extreme bias shown by Chicken House Books towards Waterstones, I could understand my customers’ behaviour.
In their shoes, I might even have done the same.
Earlier this year (2018) the third part was published (Battle of the Beetles) and exactly the same thing happened again.
Everyone flocked down to Waterstones for the special early editions.
The author was once again made available to sign copies.
This was posted on 18 Jan. We still had over a week to wait for our plain editions.
This time, no-one even pretended to order it from my shop.
Waterstones were afforded a two-week head start over other retailers which, being a slight improvement on last time, is probably now as good as it gets for us:
- No special edition.
- Two weeks behind Waterstones.
- Not a single copy sold.
Wow. Thanks, Chicken House.
The double whammy of the special edition and the early release is the publishing equivalent of a smack in the mouth and a kick in the private parts.
I got into a conversation with the author (M.G. Leonard) on Twitter, who let’s face it, is a very talented writer put into a difficult position by her publishers, exposed to the dissatisfaction of Indie Booksellers.
I asked her why there were no special editions available for Indie Bookshops.
And I want to support the indies in any way I can. I’d love for there to be a special edition just for you and I’ve asked, but I’ve been told it is to do with economies of scale, costs etc and ultimately It’s not up to me Sorry.
In this instance, the willingness to reward or favour Indie Bookshops is clearly there from the author but not from the publisher.
When it is a question of Indie Bookshops receiving favour similar to that received by Waterstones, the publisher suddenly erects insurmountable barriers.
Authors published by Chicken House have been chosen many times as Waterstones Children’s Book of the Month.
In the last couple of years, Maz Evans, Lucy Strange, M.G. Leonard, Kiran Millwood Hargrave, Cornelia Funke, Emma Carroll and Pádraig Kenny have all had this accolade bestowed on them.
So yes, I get it. When Waterstones heavily promote one title simultaneously across all stores, huge numbers of copies are sold.
For a publisher like Chicken House, this promotion must guarantee welcome funds, but is there a danger that the publisher becomes indebted to Waterstones, and in a position where they will find it hard to refuse any of Waterstones’ subsequent demands, whether it be for early copies or sprayed editions?
Isn’t the publisher now obliged to offer Waterstones preferential treatment of their own free will, either as a thank you, or to guarantee being included in future promotions?
This is an extract from an article that appeared in The Guardian last year:
- Barry Cunningham, who set up Chicken House in Frome in 2000, points out that the relationship with Waterstones doesn’t simply involve selling the book. “They’re experts in how to catch the fleeting attention of buyers, so they’ll advise on how a book looks, the words on the back, or even the title. In this particular case (Maz Evans- Who Let The Gods Out), there’s a lightning flash running around the edge. They said they really liked that, but could we bolster it.”
So Waterstones have creative and design input into some Chicken House releases.
This is a mutually beneficial arrangement that helps both Waterstones and Chicken House from a business angle undoubtedly.
From an outsider’s point of view (ie mine) this all looks way too cosy I’m afraid, very much a case of You Scratch My Back and I’ll Scratch Yours.
There is also a conflict of interests at work here:
A retailer’s primary interest is to only sell the book themselves.
In this instance, a retailer is advising a publisher how to make a book sellable, before an arrangement is made between the two parties to ensure that the retailer gets the lion’s share of the sales of this book, at the expense of other bookshops.
The book described by Barry Cunningham above (Who Let The Gods Out) was made available as a sprayed-edged edition exclusive to Waterstones, twice it turns out.
A Chicken House Books publication, which Waterstones helped design, was sold as an exclusive edition in Waterstones.
How can this be fair?
I understand that if Waterstones promote a title, they expect to reap the benefits.
The book trade is a profit-lead business like any other, and maybe we should all stop pretending it is a gentleman’s (or gentlewoman’s) industry.
However, this special relationship between Waterstones and Chicken House is too much of a closed loop, benefitting only those within the loop and excluding all others.
It prohibits fair competition.
I’m not sure how healthy this can be for the bookselling industry as a whole, and in my eyes, it diminishes the credibility of the publisher.
What is particularly galling here is that Chicken House, being small and previously independent (or as they now put it, “independent-minded”) would in some ways be the publishing equivalent of a small Indie Bookshop, me in other words.
But by getting into bed with our deep-pocketed national rival in this way, they have effectively turned their back on us and IMHO lost a lot of autonomy in the process.
What do Chicken House Books do for the exclusive benefit of our 900 or so Indie Bookshops I wonder?
I wouldn’t want to boycott any publisher particularly, for the sake of the authors, but it has got to the stage now where if a customer asks me for recommendations for a children’s book, I find myself veering away from Chicken House titles.
Nor can I find it in myself to put any of their titles in our windows or on display on my tables.
Why the hell should I?
Chicken House don’t seem to give a hoot about me (or possibly a cluck) so why should I reciprocate?
I used to think of Chicken House as being that ever-reliable Indie publisher set up by the guy who signed Harry Potter while at Bloomsbury.
Now it’s very difficult to think of them without thinking of their symbiotic and special relationship with their good buddies Waterstones.
Sorry, but that’s just the way I feel.
Waterstones’ exclusive access to early releases is not just an annoyance to booksellers it seems.
This was a comment left on a Guardian forum relating to the recent Harry Potter Board Game:
- Thing is same happened with board games as well, Harry Potter board game was not due for release until now, independent board game shops were told they can’t have any copies until after Christmas – and then suddenly, Waterstones announces it has an exclusive deal and is selling in the weeks BEFORE Christmas.
I used to like Waterstones, I never complained about spending a bit more there but I won’t be shopping there anymore after this.
It seems that Waterstones were granted exclusive rights to sell a Harry Potter Board Game (suggested retail price 44.99) in the run-up to Christmas while all other games retailers (including Indies) had to wait until January 2018.
January is clearly not a great time for a retailer to sell expensive new games especially when they have already been available elsewhere.
Once again Waterstones got to flaunt their image as the retailer for exclusive new product and earn a ton of unshared cash at the expense of other retailers, many of them Indies like myself.
Waterstones. Successfully pissing off small retailers across a variety of sectors.
Who next? Pet shops? Charity shops? Undertakers?
5 Reasons to be Optimistic:
I don’t expect Waterstones to change. They will get away with whatever they are allowed to get away with, no matter the consequences for the rest of us.
But publishers come in many shapes and sizes and with their help and support, I believe there is hope for Indie Bookshops.
Here are 5 reasons for Indies to be optimistic:
1) As you may have read, last year, Waterstones received 5000 signed limited 35.00 pound editions of La Belle Savage by Indie Bookshop champion Philip Pullman.
Indies received nothing.
We also had to endure a price war (partly started by Waterstones) on the regular edition.
This was a disappointing example of favouritism gone mad and a huge missed opportunity for Indie Bookshops to sell a major new title.
However, as a consequence of the uproar, David Fickling Books provided Indie Bookshops with signed bookplates and prints, possibly a bit late, but, it did show a willingness on the publisher’s part to take Indie Bookshops in to account, and this can only be a good thing.
This suggests that it is worth the Indie Bookshop community speaking up, and reminding publishers that yes, we exist too.
Next time, the initial impetus might come from the publishers themselves.
You never know.
2) An Independent Bookshop Alliance has been started by the very brilliant Simon Key at The Big Green Bookshop and over 100 Indie Bookshops have joined so far.
This will hopefully give a voice to Indie Bookshops and perhaps start to reverse the tide of bias afforded to Waterstones from UK publishers.
Special editions and sprayed-edged pages for Indies are both on the agenda.
Lets face it, special editions are a lucrative part of today’s bookselling landscape, whether we like it or not. We should want in.
My hat goes off to any brave soul attempting to co-ordinate over 100 opinionated unemployable weirdos such as myself.
3) When Hot Key Books released a sprayed-edged edition of Spellslinger by Sebastien de Castell in 2017, the first 10000 copies had sprayed edges irrespective of which retailers ordered them.
So you could feasibly buy a special copy from anywhere, including Amazon and Indie Bookshops.
This seems like a pretty fair system and not that hard to administer.
It’s nice to think that fans of limited edition books might have to try a variety of different bookshops, including mine.
Of course, if publishers wanted to show favouritism towards Indies, by supplying Limited Edition Books exclusively to Indie Bookshops, they could just send 5000 copies to Bertrams and 5000 copies to Gardners.
Both wholesalers have the technology to send books to Indies only. That really ought to do the trick.
Just in terms of good will created, that’s got to be worth a go, surely?
Whatever Chicken House Books might think, it is not that difficult to get sprayed editions into Indie Bookshops if the desire is there in the first place.
4) The distribution of signed books across the book trade does not have quite the same bias towards Waterstones, no matter what the Belle Sauvage experience might have suggested.
I’m sure Waterstones would like exclusivity on signed books, but thankfully, for now, there are quite a few Indie Bookshops offering signed stock as a way of attracting customers.
Most publishers will supply signed stock willingly to small bookshops on demand.
Signed hardback copies of Chris Riddell’s Goth Girl and the Sinister Symphony (Macmillan) were available at quite a few Indie Bookshops for example, in the run-up to last Christmas.
5) Just as I was finishing this blogpost, a miracle occurred.
An e-mail from Macmillan Publishers arrived informing us that the next Kate Mosse book (Burning Chambers) will be available in May as an “exclusive limited signed edition for independent retailers.”
The loud thump you may have heard would have been Indie Bookshop owners collectively falling off their chairs in surprise and delight.
Huge thanks to Kate Mosse and Macmillan for leading the way unprompted with this decision.
There will be a place reserved in my shop window for copies, and hopefully many others too.
Maybe one day we can get to a stage where the good people of Deal, Southwold, Rye and Harpenden, on contemplating their unbranded branches of Waterstones, will think to themselves:
“It’s a shame we haven’t got a real Independent Bookshop as we just don’t seem to be getting access to all those limited edition goodies.”
So if like me, you were starting to think the only way to get a sprayed-edged book into an Indie Bookshop was to basically spray your own.
(I mean, just from where I’m sat in the shop at the moment, I can see a Tri-Colour Ink Cartridge, an Asthma Inhaler and a Rimmel Stay Matte, so I must be pretty good to go.)
And if like me, thoughts of sprayed edges were starting to give you frayed edges, well it’s not all bad news for us Indie Bookshops.
There is power in a union. (Joe Hill)
Great things are done by small things coming together. (Vincent Van Gogh)
Win or lose. Sink or swim. One thing is certain: we’ll never give in. (Paul McCartney and the Frog Chorus)
Incidentally, my limited edition Laura Marling CD came from an Independent Record Shop and my limited edition Skittles were bought from my local newsagent.
In both these instances, More Alarming Records and The Wrigley Company saw no reason to sell their limited edition goodies exclusively through the biggest relevant high street retailer (HMV and Tesco).