The Wall Street Journal has an article on luxury books that is interesting and, in parts, a little creepy. For special, extremely limited editions of their books, some publishers do things like include bits of moon rock with a lunar photography book, or mix a pint of a celebrity’s blood with the paper pulp used to print the signature page of a book about him. Then they sell the books in question for 5- or 6-figure sums per copy, and expect the books to appreciate in value as time goes by.
"No one says, ‘I want to download the e-edition of this book,’ " says book analyst Michael Norris of research firm Simba Information. "If it’s a physical object that’s beautifully done, people see the value."
It is true that this is one way to sell print rather than e-books—but not very many of them. I’m reminded of the old joke about the watermelon cart that had its melons priced at one million dollars each. A passer-by exclaimed, “You’ll never sell any watermelons at that price!” and the vendor replied, “I only need to sell one.”
Of course, on a less expensive scale, making a physical book an object d’art is a way to find a market for it that won’t be threatened by e-book sales. The question is whether the market will be composed of readers or art collectors, and which is more beneficial to the continued existence of the publisher.