When I was looking into how David Bowie toured during the years he didn’t fly, there is one book that I imagine would have been really helpful: Geoff McCormack’s Station to Station: Travels with Bowie, 1973-1976. While not strictly speaking impossible, for me to get hold of this book for research was just not practical. Why? It’s simple: only 2000 copies were produced by Genesis Publications in 2007. Of these, 350 were deluxe editions. The deluxe edition is no longer available, but it is still possible to purchase one of the 1650 collector’s editions at £295 ($480). However, even if I were to buy a copy, it would not be something I’d be comfortable handling a lot the way I’d need to if I wanted to use the book. I’d treat it like an artwork, white gloves treatment.
Now, I appreciate books as objects. I’ve no interest in switching to electronic versions. I also understand that a book can be a work of art, that it is possible to produce one with pictures especially well processed, to use especially fine paper, to bind it by hand, etc. And I think that is a lovely thing to do.
But when a story or information is made available only to a tiny, economically elite group, that seems like a return to the Dark Ages, pre-printing press. Only it is worse in some respects because I doubt that books like these are available in any library in the world. At least in the Middle Ages in England you could go to Oxford’s Bodleian Library and read such a work. It might be chained to the desk, but that beats being in a vault.
And it’s not like publishing a less lovely and much less expensive version of the same work would mean that you wouldn’t have buyers for the book-as-art-object. It’s two different markets, two different reasons for purchasing the book: to have and to hold. After all, you can go into any mall poster shop and get something resembling Van Gogh’s Sunflowers to tack up on your dorm wall. Nobody believes that the price of the real Sunflowers, which fetched $40 million the last time it changed hands, falls each time another hundred thousand posters are printed.
It may be that as soon as the last collector’s edition is sold by Genesis and the book thus effectively becomes out-of-print, the rights will revert to MacCormack and he can renegotiate with another publisher for a less grand but more reasonably priced version.
I’m guessing this is what happened with Mick Rock’s Moonage Daydream, which was also originally published by Genesis. In 2002, 250 deluxe copies sold for £495 ($800) and 2,250 collector’s editions fetched £295 ($480). In 2005 it was re-issued by Universe for $50.
There’s is another way to look at this, of course. If you have $500 to invest in one of the remaining copies of the collector’s MacCormack book, your return on your investment would be substantial. Abe Books has a copy for £550 ($900). Peter Harrington has a deluxe at £900 ($1464). Clic has a $1200 (£740) collector’s.
And if Station to Station: Travels with Bowie follows the same pattern as Moonage Daydream, once the Genesis copies are gone, then your investment will increase in value.
A collector’s copy of Moonage Daydream is on US ebay for $2250 (£1383) [buy it now] and on UK ebay for auction, starting at £900 ($1464). I’ve seen a few email-me-for-details posts about deluxe editions, but none with prices. I’m sure, however, that if they find buyers, those sellers will be making a whole lot more off the £495 ($800) they paid ten years ago to Genesis than they would have had they taken that same amount and put it into the stock market. (Note: I’m using 2011 conversions: conversion rate changes from 2002 to 2011 would affect the amount of return, whether for better or worse, I don’t know. Still, I’m betting buying Moonage Daydream would have been a good investment.)