Sunday, May 2, 2010

Disingenuous Billy

Am I a Limited, or Am I a Trade?” An essay.
When the publisher Cemetery Dance announced Stephen King’s new novella, they touted it as their biggest news in twenty years” of publishing. And it may well be. I’m not one to argue. They claimed that almost never, not since the 1970’s had King debuted an original work through the specialty press – as opposed to his “mass-market” trade distributor, currently Scribner. (Previously Viking, previously Putnam). And again, they are probably not lying here either, though I have not verified this claim. (As as side note - all my pics are enlargeable via clicking)

In being the “World’s First Edition”, Cemetery Dance (CD) was releasing Blockade Billy in a trade state. For those of you unfamiliar with the publishing terms I use and the definitions I keep see my previous post. As a trade edition it was going to be a larger printing than CD was used to doing, 10,000 copies. But because Scribner and the other New York houses would print upwards of 500,000 copies for a new book by an author of Steve’s caliber, CD was also claiming that in essence, this was also a limited edition. And in a sense that was true as well, fewer King fans would have a 1st/1st in their collections than normal, lending Billy an inherent collectability.

CD also touted the “limited-ness” of the novella by noting that the first printing was densely illustrated and contained a reproduction baseball card featuring the main character of the story. “Cool,” I thought “Neat stuff to being including in a trade edition book!” This was March 29, the book due to be published in just 22 days.

A week later CD made the announcement that Lonely Road Books, another publisher that they somehow have a vested interest in, would be publishing the true limited edition of Blockade Billy. This was cool, very much in line with what happens to most of King’s books. These Lonely Road editions would be made of extremely high quality materials: dense, heavy weight paper, leather and specialty cloth covered boards, more art and handmade traycases. Signed by Stephen King himself and some even with unique – different for every copy – custom art, these editions were commanding typically high prices: $450 and $1,250 depending on the state you chose. Way out of my league, but nothing unexpected in that announcement.

Another week goes by. News of Stephen King’s new book spreads through the traditional media outlets. CD announces a second printing (sans baseball card) will be made for the libraries. The first printing is over 70% sold out. Major retail outlets will NOT be receiving any first or second print copies. Outcries rise from the Barnes & Noble and Borders “buyers” (those folks who choose what the stores will stock)...

This isn’t what happens when Steve releases a new book! We demand piles of them, with which to make our towering displays!” they shout and grumble.
But we are only a tiny press!” CD replies “This is our biggest trade printing ever!
WE WANT OUR STEPHEN KING” the world demands, whilst waving their arms and being all threatening-like.

…9 days before publication of the new book, negotiations begin anew.

CD announces, just two days later that they have made arrangements with Scribner, allowing King’s story to be traditionally published, just 35 days after the publication of CD's edition, a trade hardcover for the masses…

Wait, what now?

CD already did the trade hardcover, didn’t they? That’s what they said their edition was, over and over. Lonely Road is doing the limited and CD is doing the trade. Shouldn't Scribner at least be doing a paperback if they want reprint rights? Now suddenly, the world has two limited editions… or is that two trade editions? Or wait. Hold on, I got this one…

A Shaft to the Collector. That’s what it is. I knew I could figure out what the CD edition was called!

If CD was producing the trade edition, I would be okay with it. Sure, the book I received in the mail even looks like a trade! What with the scholastic-like illustrations, the photoshopped baseball card, and the paper covered boards. CD didn’t even bend me over a barrel on the pricing, though $32 (with their outrageous shipping) is a tad high for a book that is only 112 pages in 18 point font with 1½” margins.

If CD was producing the limited on the other hand, I would – at the very least – have expected cloth boards and illustrations that didn’t look like my fifth grader made them on the old dot-matrix printer in the garage.

“But Scribner is doing the real trade edition!” CD spouts. “They don’t even get a dustjacket and they have no pictures at all!” On the other hand, says I, Scribner is also including an additional uncollected Stephen King short story, making their $14.95 asking price that much sweeter.

So exactly which edition is yours, Cemetery Dance? You can't be both. Yes, we have a world's first edition - but by only a month, neither is the book a trade, nor is it limited. All that remains (forgive my crass conclusion here, but the vulgar analogy is appropriate) is the adopted, maladjusted, middle-child of editions. Sure we all bought into it, but in the end, do we really want to keep the bastard?

What we have here is… failure to communicate. So you get what we had here last week, which is the way he wants it… well, he gets it. I don’t like it any more than you men”. – The Captain. (Cool Hand Luke – 1967).


Spaceman Spiff said...

Yeah! What he said!

Anonymous said...

Tim - I agree with many of your points. This was a disappointment all around. Though, CD did try to address the issue by offering, at cost, a slipcase to those who bought their edition. Still, on one hand it's just an added expense to make something that is not really collectible.

Your follow-up post certainly gives them the benefit of the doubt, but that isn't much consolation.

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