Collecting has always been a part of the book buying practice. People love showing love for the things that they love. It’s just how humans work. I know I have been sucked in a time or two into buying signed copies of books I’ve already read or looking at getting special edition hard covers for some of my favorite series. However, I think there is a new trend among specifically the Fantasy and Fantasy Romance publishers that has me worried for the future.
Bonus content has always been a part of the writing and publishing process. Fans love to see little short stories and in-depth looks into other characters from the books they read. A lot of times this content would be posted to an author’s website, released as a digital download, or collected into an anthology for publication. However, recently we are seeing something completely different that gives me flashbacks to comic book publishing practices: different versions of the same book each with different bonus chapters.
Has publishing gone too far in this respect?
For reference the comic publishing world a while back started creating issues with multiple different covers from different artists. These are called variant covers. They range from different artists adding their spin on the characters, to holiday promotions like Black History Month, to different materials like a special foil or glow-in-the-dark version. Some stores also get their own exclusive covers or conventions will have versions you can only find at the event.
There have been many criticisms about variant covers from fans over the years. Some say that these covers are just a ploy to drag in the collectable market and make them into a sort of trading card. Some say that they detract from the actual content of the comic by putting too much focus on the cover. In a lot of ways, these covers can be seen as a cash grab by publishers to try and bring in as many purchases as possible. However, a positive is that they allow artists to get attention for their art from a wider fan base.
For the book publishing world, I’m not sure we have the same positives we can point to in the comic book world. Variant copies of books give me a bad taste in my mouth. Some of you may not agree, and that’s okay, but I believe bonus content shouldn’t be monetized in a way that creates a collector’s market with an unbalanced cost to benefit ratio.
Let me explain what I mean here. One of the primary author’s who has started doing this is Sarah J. Maas. Now I love her books, they’re great, but no way am I going to go to 5 different stores to find each special edition with it’s one bonus chapter, spending full price on each purchase of a book for a small portion of different content.
Now take a look at a different author that loves to put out bonus content: Jim Butcher of The Dresden Files. A lot of his bonus content is posted for fans on his website, featured in anthologies with other genre authors, or collected into one edition. The practice provides a benefit outside of just increasing the number of copies sold: it builds and maintains a loyal fanbase, it gets fans to discover other authors through anthology collections, and expands on his world building in a non-exploitative nature.
When the special editions from Sarah J Maas were released, fans were going crazy trying to find the Books-a-Million version with one chapter, the Barnes and Nobles version with another, and the Target version with a different chapter. With all of this, I think publishers are really asking a lot of their fans. Die-hard fans will probably buy all these versions, but how much of the total fan base do these people make up? My guess: not that much. Special edition covers and bindings are one thing, but asking fans to buy multiples of the same book to get a small portion of extra content is pushing it for the average fan.
So this brings me to my next point: What happens when the average fan does not have access to these versions, either because of the price point, lack of access, or lack of interest? My answer: piracy. Fans of Sarah J Maas took to the internet when her variant versions came out and started posting pictures of the bonus chapters for fans who couldn’t get access. Blogs and Tumblr’s took to collecting those photos into master lists, in some ways defeating the purpose of the publisher releasing those versions.
Perhaps they accounted for piracy in their plan to release these variants, targeting specifically die-hard fans, but in doing so, they left the average fan out of the loop, creating a disconnect between author and reader. What you also don’t want is for fans to feel like the bonus content is essential for having more understanding of the story. It’s with this that you create another level of disconnect between your average fans and your die-hards, with the average reader feeling left out of the conversation.
But, what do you think? Let me know in the comments below!
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