The first edition of Snow Crash (on the left) is larger than the book club edition (on the right).
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a Book Club Edition?
Book club editions are the cubic zirconia of book collecting in the sense that they look like the real thing, but are essentially reproductions with very low collectible value. Because they often look like first editions, book club editions cause plenty of confusion, and it is important to know how to identify them so you don't end up buying (or selling) a book club edition with the belief that it is a genuine first edition. The differences between a book club edition and a true first edition can be subtle, but once you know what to look for, you will be able to spot the tell-tale signs of a book club edition.
Before we get into the details, its important to understand what a book club edition is. Book club editions are basically facsimiles of the true first editions. They are made by companies that purchase the rights to a book from the original publisher, reproduce the book, and sell the book via a subscription service to people who belong to their "club". The Book-of-the-Month Club is the most well-known example. People join the club by agreeing up-front to buy a certain amount of books, and in return the book club subscribers get the books at a discounted rate. The books the subscribers receive look similar to the ones found in stores, which is good enough for avid readers. But these book club editions are separate editions made from less expensive materials, and to a first edition collector, these book club editions are simply not the same as the original first editions.
The good news is that the majority of book club editions will have at least one tell-tale trait that distinguishes them from the true first edition. The bad news is that these distinguishing details tend to be different from one book title to the next. So there are no one-size-fits-all rules. You have to judge each book on a case-by-case basis, and look for one of these traits. The more you find, the more likely it is that you have a book club edition.
When Examining the Dust Jacket:
The first thing to look for is a printed price on the dust jacket. The vast majority of first edition publishers print a price on the dust jacket of their books. Lack of this price usually means you have a book club edition. 99% of the time, the price on a genuine U.S. first edition is found on the top right corner of the front flap of a dust jacket. Prices for UK editions are also found on the front dust jacket flap, however they tend to be on the bottom right corner. Occasionally a price might be printed on the back flap. Again, lack of price generally means you have a book club edition, but there are factors that can add confusion. One example is price clipped dust jackets.
A dust jacket is considered price clipped when the portion where the price should be has been cut away. There are two reasons why a jacket might be clipped. The first is to remove the price when the book is being discounted or when the book is given as a gift. The second is to remove the blank area where the price should be in order to disguise a book club dust jacket and pass it off as a genuine first edition jacket. For some dust jackets the lack of price is the only give-away. So by clipping the top part of the front flap, it becomes difficult to tell whether the dust jacket is from a first edition or a book club edition. Fortunately books produced since the late 1980s also have bar codes on the back that corresponds with the price on the front flap, and this can be useful when examining a clipped dust jacket. So if there is a bar code on the back, but there is no price code, then the book may be a book club edition. Check out the photos below for examples.
The lack of price rule is an effective book club indicator 99% of the time. But there are a handful of exceptions. The book club edition of The New Centurions by Joseph Wambaugh has a price on the dust jacket and is very difficult to distinguish from a genuine first edition. On the flip side, the first edition of The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy has no price on the dust jacket, and these are very often confused for book club editions and sold at bargain prices.
One final note about the dust jacket: Some dust jackets may have a statement that says something like "A Book-of-the-Month Club Selection". This statement by itself does not necessarily mean that the book or jacket is a book club edition. Rather it is nothing more than a tout by the publisher to advertise in effect that the Book-of-the-Month Club planned to make a book club edition at the time the first edition was published. Publishers are proud when their book is picked up by book clubs because it is an affirmation that the novel is good, and it will enjoy a higher readership through the club.
The Dust Jacket and Book as a Couple:
Most books are published with a dust jacket - a marriage made at the printing press. The role of the dust jacket is to protect the book from dust and other damaging elements including moisture and sun light. This protective layer also serves as a way to advertise the book to potential readers who must decide whether the book is worthy of their time and money. Unfortunately dust jackets are not as hardy as their mates. Dust jackets fade and become brittle over time to the point where they simply disintegrate. Many dust jackets don't even make it that far. Some readers regard dust jackets as packaging, and simply discard them. The net effect is that books tends to outlive their original dust jackets. A walk down the aisle at a used book store with bear this out.
It is easy to swap dust jackets, and often older books end up "remarried" to replacement dust jackets. So if you come across a used book with a dust jacket, you cannot assume that the jacket is original. It is not uncommon to run across a first edition book with a book club dust jacket. This is especially true of older titles where the original dust jackets are scarce. So while the presence of a book club dust jacket should make you suspect the validity of the book, it does not automatically mean that the book itself is a book club edition. You should judge the book by itself, and look for additional indicators to rule out whether its a book club edition.
When Examining the Book:
The first thing to look for is the size and thickness of the book. Does the book seem to small? Or too thin? Then look at the binding - is it made out of cloth? Or cheap paper? Also, turn the book over and look at the bottom right corner. Do you see a small circular of square depression? That is another sign of a book club edition. Some book club editions have gutter codes. Gutter codes are numbers or letters printed on one of the last pages near the spine. See photo below of the gutter code on the book club edition of Black Sunday.
Then open the book and take a look at the copyright page. Very often the copyright page of the book club edition will be different from the first edition copyright page. Sometimes the book club edition will omit a first edition statement, or will not have a number line, or will lack Library of Congress information. These are important clues.
Here is a video we put together to show you a few examples of book club versus first editions:
Below are example photos from various book club editions:
The genuine first edition of Snow Crash on the left has a second bar code on the back of the dust jacket with a code (52200) that corresponds to the $22.00 price on the front flap. The book club edition on the right does not have this code.
The book club edition of The New Centurions has a small circular depression on the bottom right corner on the back of the binding. These depressions are not always present on book club editions. But in nearly all cases, books with this type of depression are book club editions. Don't confuse the larger depression of the publisher's logo on the left side. That kind of mark is not a book club depression and is common on many first editions.
The dust jacket on the left is from a book club edition of The Catcher in the Rye. It lacks a price which is typical for most book club dust jackets. The dust jacket on the right is from a first edition. Notice the price on the upper right corner.
The price on this first edition of The Evolution of Physics is located on the back flap rather than the front. This is very unusual.
The book club edition of The Da Vinci Code is smaller than the first edition.
Today's Book Club produces replicas that have prices and often state first edition with full number lines. However, the dust jacket typically has their book club logo on the front, and the ISBN on the copyright page is different than the ISBN of the first edition.
The copyright page from the book club edition of The Hunt for Red October (left) is missing the library of Congress information. The copyright page from the genuine first edition is on the right.
The title page from the first edition of Collected Stories of William Faulkner has blue coloring on the top. The book club edition does not, and was probably left out to save money.
The genuine first edition of The Da Vinci Code on the left has a second bar code on the back of the dust jacket with a code (52495) that corresponds to the $24.95 price on the front flap. The book club edition on the right does not have this code.
The book club edition of The Da Vinci Code (on the top) uses cheaper paper.
The book club edition of The New Centurions by Joseph Wambaugh has a price on the dust jacket and is very difficult to distinguish from a genuine first edition.
The dust jacket from the book club edition of A Brief History of Time lacks both bar codes on the back.
The book club edition of Ahab's Wife lacks a price.
the book club edition is of Ahab's Wife is resting on top of the first edition. Notice the tiny threads on the spine in the first edition.
The true first edition of Ahab's Wife has maroon paste-downs. The book club edition has white paste-downs.
The book on the left is the true first edition of Stallion Gate. Notice that it has the ISBN on the bottom right corner. The book on the rights is the book club edition which lacks the ISBN.
The book club edition of Stallion Gate has a small circular depression on the lower right corner of the back of the binding near the spine.
This book club edition of The Old Man and the Sea has a very small depression on the binding.
This book club edition of Black Sunday has printing in the gutter of the second-from-last page.
The first edition binding of To Kill a Mockingbird on the top with its green spine is very different than the book club edition below it with a black spine.