1st editions vs. Book Clubs. Is there a difference?

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I go out of my way in my listings to note as much edition and printing information as I can. A common question I am asked is, why? Specifically, why make such effort to differentiate between book club editions and trade editions, first printings and later printings. Is their really a difference?
First and foremost, if you take the most healthy attitude about books, that is, books are for reading, then nothing matters but the content. Book Clubs, Ex-Library copies, later printings, reprints, even e-readers, all serve the purpose of providing text for the reader. There is nothing wrong with that attitude. Most would say it is the only way to look at books. And for them, they would be right (I was that way before I fell into the 'collector' trap).
Is there a qualitative difference between Book Club Editions and editions published to be sold at bookstores (commonly labeled 'trade' editions? Almost always, yes. Book Clubs are generally produced with cheaper materials and/or production processes. Perhaps paper covered spine as opposed to cloth. Perhaps a cheaper grade of paper, perhaps no (or cheaper/easier to produce) design on the front cover or spine. Perhaps shorter or thinner. Anything that the Book Club manufacturer can do to save money and make it profitable to offer the book at lower cost than the edition offered in your local bookstore is in play.  
Is the qualitative difference alone able to account for the potentially huge difference in price between Book Clubs and the editions offered at bookstores??... Absolutely not. There is no way that these ultimately trivial differences in production value can explain why an early dust jacketed book club edition of Catcher in the Rye can go for 2-3 figures while the first trade edition can command 4-5 figures. It is absurd. But it goes to the heart of the psychology of collecting.
And so we come to book collecting... Books as objects beyond simply the text that they deliver. Collecting books (or, for that matter, collecting anything) is inherently an irrational pursuit. But it is also, I think, inherently human. The collector looks for scarcity as well as 'market value.' Book Collectors have decided over the years that first printings are what they will seek out. There used to be an excuse for why first/early printings were more desirable but I won't even go into it here because it is now exactly that, an excuse.
Some readers, already adept at creating a world in their mind from the written direction of an author, can hold a first edition/first printing and feel the excitement that accompanied the original release of the book. They see the dust jacket and experience the time and place that it was produced. That is certainly the case with me.
But in the end, the ‘why’ matters less than the simple fact that collectors want first printings. (They also want the books to be in as near to the condition they were on the day they were produced. This rule applies to nearly all collecting.... Condition Condition Condition. That's why ex-library copies rarely command a premium). There is also what I call the Garbage Theory of Value... That which is most likely to be thrown away is most likely to be desired later. So we have the absurdity of toys in boxes being far more valuable than the same toy without its original packaging... In the book world, the dust jacket replaces the box in terms of adding value far exceeding what any kind of rational person would expect it to add.
Collectors rationalize their collecting (and reaffirm the market value) by saying to anybody who will listen that their collection will appreciate (or at least hold) value over the years while a collection of books purchased without regard to edition or condition will probably not hold as much value. As long as there are collectors who agree with this, it is kind-of  true. But make no mistake, for nearly all collectors, this is just a rationalization. Nearly every collector I know could hardly imagine giving up their collection. Some make jokes about needing to create an 'exit strategy' but for most, that strategy amounts to telling their relatives that if they die, they should be aware that books have value.
I could go on with negative after negative about the absurdity of collecting but the bottom line is... I am a collector and it gives me joy to search out objects to fill my collection. For me, much of the joy is in the hunt. For others, it may be looking at a shelf, a book case, a library of books and knowing that each book is ‘special’ in some way or another.
Welcome to the odd world of book collecting. Make it bring you as much joy as it brings me.
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