July 16, 2010

Grossest marketing gimmick of the year, goes to….


Publisher of Kraken Opus and donor Sachin Tendulkar

… “luxury publisher” Kraken Opus, for a $75,000 book on Indian cricket star Sachin Tendulkar. Why so much, you ask? Well, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal, “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.”

Gross. On so many levels.

The Journal goes on to report that “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.”

Just when you thought such excess died with the market crash, we learn that a hedge fund manager has bought 20 copies of a $40,000 book about Ferraris published by Kraken. What’s more, he’s paying Kraken to store the books for him in a climate-controlled facility.

Art book publisher Taschen is an old hand at this game, reports the Journal, “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.” On top of that, “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.

The Journal points out, though, that the the re-sale market for these kinds of books has yet to come into its own: “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.”

Dedicated buyers don’t seem to mind. The Journal quotes architect and art collector Leo Daly, whose art collection includes works by Auguste Rodin and modernist Paul Klee, as saying, “I’ve collected almost everything they’ve produced.”

Filmmaker Brett Ratner, who described himself to the Journal 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?'”

Good question.

Valerie Merians is the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.