The Consumerism of the Bookish Community
Consumerism is a difficult subject among the bookish.
We all know that libraries are there, that they are free. But we want to have the book, to love and cherish, to *heaven forbid* notate and highlight and own. And maybe even multiple editions of the same book! There are so many beautiful editions, not just of the classics, but of many new books as well, thanks to Goldsboro and Waterstones and all of the book boxes. And then there is the merch! Oh, the book lover merchandise available to us in this age of Etsy. The bookmarks and candles and book sleeves and scarves, and 1,000 other things created by fellow lovers of our favorite book characters. "We are supporting artists and small businesses," we loudly declare! But when is it too much?
This is a very hard subject for me to talk about. I have over 100 editions of the same book. I am a collector, a book consumer to my core. I may delude myself into believing that my collection will put my kids through college, but let's be real. Will I realistically be able to part with my favorite possessions? I kind of doubt it.
I also am a monthly subscriber to 3 book boxes. One month I actually received 3 different copies of the exact same new release. And that's what really got me thinking about this subject. How much is too much?
In today's blog I will delve into the psychology of consumerism in the bookish community, and will discuss some things that help me, and hopefully will help you define how much is too much for you personally.
I used quotes for a reason. Picture me using air quotes. There is a trend going on that you may have heard me talk about before for which I automatically dock a star in my review. A writer puts out a book which is not a complete story in and of itself. The book does not end. There is no conclusion. They stopped writing, put the book out into the world, and let you read the whole thing, only to find that if you want any sense of closure, you must purchase the next book.
I love a good series, please don't mistake me. But each book requires its own story, its own adventure, and its own ending. If not, it's not a book. It's a part to a book that you are cutting into pieces to get more money from me, and I do not appreciate it. In fact, it really pisses me off, and makes me not want to read the next book, just to spite you. If you are a writer, publisher, or editor, PLEASE STOP DOING THIS!
Book boxes have been the downfall of many a bank account. The surprise of a new release, sometimes a special edition, combined with some highly touted "useful" items *sense my sarcasm* is hard to resist. There are entire groups on Facebook (BST groups) with thousands of members dedicated to the selling and trading of the items that come in these boxes.
I am just as guilty as the next book lover of spending entirely too much money on these. I am personally in it for the book and maybe a bookmark. Most of the items I find are much less useful than claimed, and then I've got boxes of crap sitting in my library waiting on someone to buy it. (Or, more likely, waiting on me to have the time and inclination to actually photograph them and post them for sale, when that time would be much more enjoyable spent reading.)
And then there is the licensed merchandising. Artists used to have free reign to imagine and create characters their own way. I hold to the belief that this is how things should be. The world a book creates in a person's mind is magical, and to put bars on that curiosity and imagination just does not seem right. But now we have certain writers who copyright peoples' imagination. I don't like it. I'm not sure anyone does, except the people who are making money from it (and no, it's not the small local businesses, it's the manufacturers in China.) The quality is crap, the prices are too high, and the breadth of variety we had before is lost. Everyone loses.
There is a place for bookish merchandise. I'd much rather use soap that was created by someone who loves the same story as mean and designed it to evoke the mood of a certain scene. I love the bookmarks I've purchased from a college art major who sees characters from one of my favorite series in the same way I do. I drink my morning coffee from a mug that has one of my favorite bookish quotes on it, made not on an assembly line, but lovingly baked in someone's home kitchen. I use these things. I love these things. Someone else loved them into existence, and now they are part of my daily life.
The 10 tapestries sitting in a box in my library? Not so much.
Let's get back to my three special editions of Sorcery of Thorns. I have not gotten rid of a single edition yet, and that's mainly because I haven't read it. It's on my TBR list, an ever-increasing mountain of books I want to read eventually. (I won't delve into the argument for owning a ton of books I haven't read, because Jen over at Bluestocking Bookshelf has already written an amazing post about it and I've got nothing more to add!)
I will likely keep the sprayed edge edition, because it's pretty and that's what I love the most. But I'm not sure yet.
I've seen people who must have all of the editions of a book, and I can understand, because I love Pride & Prejudice so much that I have an entire collection of them. If you truly love a book that much, that's great! But if you find yourself buying multiple editions for a bunch of different books, take a close look at why you're doing it. Do you truly love that book, or is it just FOMO?
I adore a special edition. What is it about them that I love? After having received several, there are a few things I know that I like, and others that I don't care about.
I am obsessed with sprayed edges in rainbow colors. I love how they look on the shelf, I love how they look when they age, and I love the uniqueness of them. I love them so much that I've played around with spraying my own edges. I find myself unable to let go of a book with a sprayed edge. It's just my jam.
I'm not particularly attached to an exclusive cover. Typically the publisher doesn't let too many changes be made anyway, and if the difference is a color, well, the original colors were picked for a reason, right? Now if it's a completely different design, it will depend on if I like it better or not. I do find that I prefer many UK cover designs over the US versions, and that the small color changes Owlcrate makes don't make a big difference to me in my desire for a book.
I also love an embossed naked cover, or a cloth cover with art on it. Some of my most beloved books are dust jacket-less. They are easier to care for, you never have to put an ugly plastic wrapper on them, and they look stunning on the shelf.
Artwork can hold a value if it is truly amazing. I've got several reverse dust jackets that are stunning, and others with tip-in art or end papers that I specifically wanted. But just any old artwork won't due. It must be truly special to me personally.
Signed editions... I find that if I have not met the author, a signed edition only holds as much value to me as it holds for resale. Unless I went and got that signature myself, I do not value it as much. Perhaps you feel differently, and honestly I only recently discovered it about myself, when I received 2 special editions of Darkdawn. I ordered the Illumicrate version with the yellow sprayed edges, having forgotten that I'd already ordered the Shelflove edition with reverse dust jacket art. Both were signed. In fact, all first editions of Darkdawn were signed. I kept the Illumicrate version.
Let's delve deeper into the Darkdawn discussion. Jay Kristoff, bless the poor man's writing hand, signed every single first edition released. For anyone who values a signed copy, it was cool to have. But since so many were signed, it devalues the signature. From a collector's perspective, too many special editions or too many signed editions devalues the rest. Why? Simple - they are easier to come by. The easier something is to get, generally the less it is worth to a collector.
I see the "collector" discussion come up quite a bit. Mostly by people who want a collector's item and want to pay the original MSRP for it instead of the going rate. They are angry that they should have to pay more for something, that someone would have the audacity to want so much for it. But the truth is, things are only worth what people will pay for them. It's called supply and demand, and is a very basic economic principle. If there is only one for sale, and someone else will pay $150, does anyone truly believe they would sell it for $20 instead? I guarantee that those same people who complain about it would sell it for the extra $130, because we all need more book money!
Now, I do understand the argument that there are people out there who buy up special editions and book merch just to turn around and sell them for more money. We've seen this for years, from the people that buy all of the Hatchimals at Christmas and then sell them on eBay for three times as much, to the people who steal from the donation bin and turn around and sell the items.
The only thing I can say about this is, it sucks, it isn't fair, and there's no way any business can possibly prevent it outside of limiting one per customer address. And people would still find a way to do it. We may not like it, but we also cannot expect business owners to be able to do anything about it. C'est la vie, there will always be shitty people out there, and the best you can do is not be or raise one of them.
I want to be clear that I am in no way the Marie Kondo of books. I am just as guilty as anyone else, but I am trying to get better, and am slowly grasping the tools to do so. I hope that you take a close look at what you have, and what you love, and try to understand the difference, as I am. From there, you can better determine what you really want, because it will be similar to the things you love! So that we can all surround ourselves with what we love, instead of more junk!