My Quibble with Anniversary Editions

Elizabeth Bluemle - September 11, 2015

Why oh why do publishers mess with beautiful book covers when creating anniversary editions?
From the publisher’s point of view, if there’s nothing different and new about an old book, there’s nothing new to market. I understand that they want to differentiate the anniversary edition as a special book with something new to offer readers, but by and large, the anniversary covers are uglier than the originals. Either the gorgeous cover art is squished smaller to make room for a border — n.b., a full border instantly almost always makes a book look static and dull — or a banner proclaiming the anniversary takes up precious art space. And, the books are almost always a couple of dollars more expensive than the perfectly good original — for no discernible reason except to pay for the revamped cover design.

As a frontline bookseller, I can tell you that customers care so much less about that 25-year burst medallion than they do about the fact that their beloved book looks different. The whole selling point of a book that has withstood the test of time is nostalgia. Mess too much with it and the book loses its appeal.
Some anniversary editions alter even the color of a book’s cover, and I’ll bet my fellow booksellers will join me in saying that customers almost always ask us to order the original edition rather than buying the new one. The anniversary marketing push draws attention to old favorites, but it’s the old favorite that people want.
Can anyone think of a case where the anniversary edition of a book was more appealing than the original?

3 thoughts on “My Quibble with Anniversary Editions

  1. Peter Glassman

    I agree by-and-large with Josie — I was particularly disappointed with the hardcover 50th anniversary edition last year of THE BOOK OF THREE by Lloyd Alexander. It’s the start of one of my favorite middle grade series of all time and the anniversary edition was smaller than the original! Which, of course, meant the type was less easy to read and less inviting to young readers. Fortunately, the paperback edition was the same size and did well.
    However, I can think of a few anniversary editions that have done well. The 10th anniversary edition of KNUFFLE BUNNY did very well for us — though the original probably sold equal numbers (they were both available). Of course, what I think a lot of customers liked about that book was that the anniversary edition had no dust jacket — so there was nothing to get ripped, crushed, or damaged. (We could have a whole other discussion about how 90% of picture books do not need dust jackets!)
    Also, as I recall, the 10th anniversary edition of STINKY CHEESEMAN had some additional content that excited customers. And the slipcased editions of A LITTLE PRINCE and THE STORY OF FERDINAND both did nicely.
    But the best selling anniversary editions I can recall are when the publisher has gone back to the original art and done a much more beautifully printed edition of a classic. This was done for the 25th anniversary of WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE and the books never looked more beautiful. Naturally, sales soared! The same was true when the Beatrix Potter books were redone in the 1980s — and when POLAR EXPRESS was redone with digital scans that captured details lost in the earlier printings.
    Finally, the larger trim anniversary edition of THE SNOWY DAY also did very well for us — though, again, there were lots who preferred the original trim size edition they grew up with. But I do believe that having both editions on the shelf definitely bumped sales. Not that I’m willing to have two editions of every title on my shelves — but for some titles (like SNOWY DAY and KNUFFLE BUNNY) it’s well worth it.
    But I ultimately agree with Josie — anniversary editions need to be done with a lot of thought and consideration. And here’s a crazy idea for publishers — maybe actually consult some of the booksellers who actually talk to the retail customers before you go forward with plans for changing a classic. We’re eager to help and actually do get some feedback you folks don’t.

  2. Melissa

    I was really disappointed with the Book of Three re-do. I had hoped Macmillan would use the anniversary as an opportunity to relaunch the series with new, exciting covers. I had dreams of an iconic image on each, maybe – the book, the bauble, the sword, the cauldron etc.
    Instead we get an anniversary cover which isn’t remotely appealing to new readers. Sigh.


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