Publishers are marketing elaborate editions with all sorts of pricey features, banking on them to grow in value like rare coins or artworks By ALEXANDRA ALTER
For $75,000, you can buy a piece of Indian cricket star Sachin Tendulkar.
Big Book Business
Taschen contracted the Vatican's book binder to put together SUMO because it was so large.
Luxury publisher Kraken Opus mixed in a pint of Mr. Tendulkar's blood with paper pulp to create the signature page for a book celebrating the renowned batsman's career. The 10 limited-edition copies, which comes out in February, cost $75,000 each and have already sold out.
Kraken is one of a handful of high-end publishing houses that are pushing the boundaries of extravagance and novelty in the luxury book market. Such books are being treated as investments and sometimes commanding prices usually reserved for original art works.
Earlier this year, Taschen Books sold pieces of the moon with 12 copies of its massive photography book on the lunar landing (one of the lunar-rock editions sold for $112,500). Taschen previously published a $7,500, 800-page book on Muhammad Ali, "GOAT" (for "greatest of all time"), that comes with four signed photographs of the boxer and a sculpture by Jeff Koons.
"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."
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If you just can't wait for the paperback: Bettina Rheims's 'Rose C'est Paris' for $2,000.
Kraken plans to charge $40,000 for a forthcoming book about the Ferrari automobile—a sum that could purchase an actual car, albeit a more prosaic one. The book features rare images of Enzo Ferrari's villa and action inside Formula One racing pits, plus the signatures of all living Ferrari champion drivers. A hedge-fund manager has ordered 20 copies (just 399 will be issued) and is paying Kraken a quarterly fee to store the books in a climate-controlled facility, says Karl Fowler, CEO of parent company Opus Media Group.
This summer, Taschen is releasing a $50,000 collector's edition celebrating the work of the installation artists Christo and his late wife, Jeanne-Claude. The 754-page tome, designed by Christo, comes with a 1965 lithograph, and an original sketch depicting one of his installations.
Taschen recently published a $2,000 book of surreal erotic photographs by French photographer Bettina Rheims, which comes with a signed original print and a DVD of a film based on the photos featuring supermodel Naomi Campbell and Italian actress Monica Bellucci. TeNeues Publishing Group is coming out with several $3,000 collector's editions with original signed prints this fall, including titles on fashion designer John Galliano's work at Dior and Michael Poliza's Africa photos.
Opus Media Group
From 'Tendulkar Opus,' $75,000.
Taschen has dramatically raised prices on some of its older books. Its massive Helmut Newton photography edition, titled "Sumo," now costs $15,000, up from $1,500 when it came out in 1999. The Ali volume now sells for $15,000. The 2006 book featuring work by the artist Peter Beard now costs $18,000, a 260% increase from its $5,000 original price tag, while a book of Mr. Koons's work went up to $4,500 from $1,000, and goes for even more on eBay.
Still, the resale market for high-end collectible books remains somewhat murky and difficult to track. Major auction houses such as Christie's and Sotheby's don't sell such works at their book auctions, which include rare manuscripts and first editions. Bonhams does auction new limited-edition books—with mixed results, it says. Taschen's books often turn up on eBay for several times the purchase price, but newer luxury publishers say it's too early to gauge a secondary market for their books.
Filmmaker Brett Ratner ("Rush Hour") describes himself as a compulsive collector of Taschen's books, noting that his Los Angeles home "looks like a Taschen store." He owns all of Taschen's collector's editions. He bought 10 copies of the Helmet Newton "Sumo" book when it first came out, gave several copies away and kept the rest. "It's ridiculous," Mr. Ratner says of his Helmut Newton collection. "Why would I have more than one?"
Architect and art collector Leo Daly says he's compiled a library of more than 100 Taschen books, including collector's editions of architects Zaha Hadid and Shigeru Ban. Mr. Daly displays some of Taschen's books in his architecture firm's 30 offices, and plans to donate a portion of the books to architecture museums, he says. "I've collected almost everything they've produced" in limited edition, says Mr. Daly, whose art collection includes works by Auguste Rodin and modernist Paul Klee.
Opus Media Group
The 'Enzo Edition' of 'The Ferrari Opus' for $40,000.
Founder Benedikt Taschen, a former comic-book-store owner from Cologne, Germany, says he takes inspiration from 18th- and 19th-century European book makers whose large-format illustrated manuscripts were viewed as rare works of art rather than mass-produced profit-makers.
Mr. Taschen delights in embracing the high and low. His books vary wildly in price, from $7.99 to $18,000 and up, and cover diverse subject matters, ranging from a facsimile of the 1534 Luther Bible to former porn star Vanessa del Rio.
Taschen produces about 100 books a year and sells roughly 12 million to 18 million copies annually. The Los Angeles-based company has 11 retail stores world-wide, up from three outlets in 2005. Roughly two-thirds of its sales come from cheaper backlist editions. But the splashy first editions aren't just vanity projects. They're publicity stunts, generating buzz and helping drive sales for the rest of the company.
Mr. Taschen also clearly enjoys the process: "When you can do a book that has more or less no budget, you can do exactly what you want without limitations."