Publishing Promotions From Alexander Rare Books
By Michael Stillman
Alexander Rare Books of Barre, Vermont, has published a catalogue of unusual and most interesting items. The focus here is rare, though not antiquarian. These are publishers' promotional items, most often early copies meant for booksellers, often just a first chapter, or beginnings of several different books. A few are even more promotional, such as displays. This is ephemeral material, but all tied to specific books and authors.
The majority of the items come from what Alexander calls "the golden age of marketing." This was the period from 1985-2000. Starting in the 1970s, there was an upsurge in booksellers. Smaller chains such as Walden and Dalton sprung up, while independents flourished. Publishers, pressed to sell more and more books, increased their marketing efforts. Material was distributed to encourage these stores to stock their books. However, since 2000, the number of independent bookstores has dropped precipitously. A few big chains, like Barnes and Noble and Borders, replaced the Mom and Pop stores. Then, much of the business shifted to the internet, through Amazon or listings on cooperative sites. The days when publishers needed to distribute their material to large numbers of independents was replaced by sales pitches to a few major buyers. There is no longer the quantity of this material being printed that there was during the "golden age."
How will collectors view this type of material over the long run? That's a question which is hard to answer. It is still too early to know how history will value a unique category of items that are still mostly under two decades old. We do not yet even know what value most of the underlying books will command as they age. Many come from relatively new authors. Some will be household names for generations yet to come; other will soon be forgotten. What we can say is that these will be uncommon items relating to works of recent authors, some of whom will become very collectible in the years ahead. These items will most likely be of great interest to those who collect these authors. Your job is to pick the right ones, because today, the great majority of these unusual items are priced very low. This is a field where anyone can collect, regardless of budget. We are on the ground floor, and while no one yet knows how many stories are in this building, we do know that the only way is up.
Here are some examples. Three authors are represented in this 1992 advance excerpt from their novels. There is The Tax Man by Peter Carey, Ever After, by Graham Swift, and Dreaming in Cuban from Cristina Garcia. For Garcia, it was her first novel. This promotional piece was put together by publisher Alfred A. Knopf. It is still in its original shrinkwrap. Item 37. Priced at $20.