In-depth: Special edition books

Special edition books are lining the shelves of your local bookshop in the run up to Christmas and look set to rekindle our love affair with the printed page 

Waterstones on The Hayes is one of the only remaining chain bookshops in Cardiff

Wandering aimlessly through your local bookshop on a dreary, rain-sodden afternoon has long been one of the most comforting past-times you could hope to find. The feeling of thick carpet under your feet; the never-changing, unique smell of dusty shelves and the reliable weight of that elusive book in your hands. For some, this harks back to a long forgotten time when browsing in your local bookshop was the norm and not the exception.

But retailers across the country are helping customers, in the age of the iPad and Kindle, recapture their love for print and the humble bookshop with special edition reissues of classic novels. 

With embossed leather-bound covers, fine-leaf pages and gilt lining, the books filling the shelves of Britain’s bookshops look more like baubles on a Christmas tree than the run-of-the-mill paperbacks we have come to expect.

Walk into your local Waterstone’s, and one shelf alone may house classics by Jane Austen, Mark Twain, Edgar Allen Poe and Emily Bronte. The delicate gold script title of Sense & Sensibility covers pastel-coloured pages, while the gothic scrawl of Dracula on blood-red leather would stand out on any coffee table. These classic novels are ones most of us will already have on our shelves, but in the run up to Christmas we will justify them as a treat, or a present for a loved one with a penchant for the collectable.   

The careful shopper

Christmas shopping has changed massively in the past decade; in a recent report, Verdict Research found that since 2000 attitudes have changed from the “careless shopper”, who paid little but bought lots, to today’s “careful shopper”, who pays high prices for fewer goods. This new shopper is demanding and wants more than just a product; they want an experience. 

The manager of Cardiff’s Waterstone’s branch, Steve Gane, has noticed a dramatic increase in the trend in recent years. In his opinion, the key to their success is simple, “Great books, established classics, in a beautiful package are hugely appealing to many book buyers.”

While Steve noted that many are bought as gifts, customers also collect sets from publishers who release a whole range of classics as special editions. The impact these have on a reader’s shelf at home is what inspires them, Steve believes.  

“I think it’s also true to say that readers are willing to invest more in classics. They’re certainly luxury purchases, as the majority are available in very cheap editions, or even as free e-books.”


This is too true; if you were buying some of these books on Amazon’s Kindle, you wouldn’t hand over a penny. But the click-and-buy transience of these transactions sometimes fails to provide the quality and tangibility that consumers are looking to receive with their product. 

That isn’t to say however that digital books aren’t taking a giant bite out of the market; figures released by the Publishers Association for 2010 show that sales of digital books are soaring in the UK, with £16 million spent on novels and consumer titles alone. 

Ever changing

In Cardiff, the thirst for unique literary tomes has always been a pronounced one. Troutmark Books in the Castle Arcade specialises in secondhand books, first editions, comic annuals and magazines. Perched high around the desk is a selection of special edition and collectable books, ranging from the truly unique to the kitsch and kooky. 

Owner Keri Rogers explains, “Most Christmases people come in looking for something from the past, and want something unusual. A lot aren’t necessarily expensive, but many come from the 1940s and 1950s and cost around £50.”

Keri acknowledges that while many people may still visit the store, they are then going home and looking online to ensure they get the best deal, “There are less and less of us around now – browsing book shops. The trend for buying on the internet means that we can only last so long.”

Shop assistant Leon Richards confesses he is afraid to buy a Kindle or iPad, fearing it would give him a desire to rid himself of all his treasured paperbacks. While the rise of e-readers is indisputable, special editions are just one of the ways readers are being tempted back into their local bookshops.

Keri is pragmatic about the future, “Books used to be leather bound, in chains and guarded by monks. Books will always change, but now that change is speeding up.”