Saturday, 19 July 2014

Fine Press Books

Fine Press (or ‘Private Press’) books are printed in limited numbers, sometimes just as few as 12, but more typically around 200-300 copies. Often, within this limited print run, there will be a number of ‘special’ editions produced – with fine bindings, often in quarter, half or full leather.

They are published by small, independent private press businesses, typically only one or two people, often working from their homes. The books are usually commissioned by the printers, based on their instincts of what will sell (or, idiosyncratically, just what they like to read), printed by hand, then carefully and individually bound together using high quality materials, for example, marbled and hand-made papers, leather, decorated cloth covered boards. The illustrations are often especially produced or gathered for the book and an artist will usually sign the colophon page, along with the author, and sometimes the printer. The book may come with a matching slipcase, and the ‘special’ editions often come with a portfolio of signed prints - see example illustrated above: one of only 150 copies, with a separate print signed by the artist, Rigby Graham..

I like the independence of these fine press printers. They never know if a book will sell, so it takes guts to do what they do. Most are interesting characters with a story to tell. And after a few pints, or glasses of wine, they will tell it.

Fine Press books commemorating the life and work of well-known artists are particularly popular, but you will find limited edition books in a wide range of subjects, with a predominance towards the arts and humanities. My own particular favourites are books illustrated with wood engravings.

The books can be expensive. But many of them are highly collectable, as once the print run has been sold, there is no second or subsequent printing. In an age of mass production they stand out from the crowd.

There is a growing niche market for these books. The people who buy them love books – as I do.
They love handling them, are drawn to the illustrations, and admire quality of the typography and binding. They will often pay a high price to collect a book that is long out of print.

The longer the book is out of print, the more attractive the binding, the more interesting the contents, then, generally, the higher the price it commands on the second-hand market.

There are four main ways to acquire fine press books.

First,  you can buy them new from the printer. A recognised book dealer will usually pay a trade price for the books, but the printer will usually expect the dealer to buy more than one copy, unless it is a 'special' edition. You are advised to join a professional booksellers association, such as the PBFA, and to keep in regular contact with the printers. This will give you credibility and build trust between you and the printer. Pay your bill from the printer promptly and you will have a friend for life.

Once you have bought the books you can decide either to wait until the book is out of print before offering it to sale, or including it as a new item in your catalogue. You might ask though, why buy a new fine press book from a dealer, when you could buy it new from the printer? The reason is that your customer may not have heard of the printer, but does know you - they may have bought books from you in the past, and discover the book on your site or on your online site at a book fair where you are exhibiting. If you do decide to sell it new, I would advise you to sell it at the printer's recommended selling price, rather than an inflated one of your own. Why? Because if your customer subsequently learns that the book could have been bought for a cheaper price direct from the printer, you will be in their bad books. (see section on 'Pricing').

If you decide to wait until the book is out of print, then this is a long game and the dealer may have to wait years for this to happen. I have some fine press books I bought ten years ago that are still on sale direct from the printer, so there is no guarantee of selling these books at a profit. But this is where the bookseller skill comes in - judging which books are likely to go out of print quickly, and buying enough of them. I am still learning.

Second, you can buy fine press books from book dealers. A book seller who specialises in selling them will have a good idea about their selling value, so you may find there is little profit margin for you if you wanted to re-sell the book in the short term. But other more general book dealers can offer bargains - if you hunt around for them. Book fairs can still be good places to find fine press books. And the bigger the fair sometimes the bigger the bargain, because of the fierce competition in the sales hall. At the larger fairs you often have100+ dealers all competing for business.
My website link is here.

Third, you can find these books at the better auction houses. You would need to search auction house online and printed catalogues, and get to know the auction house book specialists to build a working relationship with them. If they know you are interested, they can let you know when these books are put into sales. You can find these books too, on general online auctions, such as Ebay.

Fourth, you can buy them from individual book collectors. Many of my best acquisitions have been made this way. I have a note on my website to the effect that I am always interested in buying these books - and will pay a fair price for them. This is important, as the owners of these books know their value. They understand that a book dealer must make a profit on them - but will want to be offered a price in line with their worth. Negotiating a price can be tricky sometimes, but the combination of experience of the book dealer - and pragmatism of the seller - can usually see a deal made to the satisfaction of both parties.