Rumors* to the contrary notwithstanding, it's not TOP's fault that there's a sudden global shortage of the new edition of Walker Evans' American Photographs. Not counting Amazon Germany, Amazon Canada, or The Book Depository, TOP readers have ordered fewer than 900 copies of the book through our links. That's enough to cause a temporary draining of the supply pipes (Amazon.com shipped 166 copies before running out of immediate stock), but I don't think it's enough to cause a real shortage. I have no idea how many copies MoMA printed, but given that they have several thriving museum bookstores I'd peg the number at, what, maybe 15 to 30 thousand? That could still be way off; who knows, maybe they printed 50k or 100k so they'd have NOS (new old stock) for years to come. (An ordinary photo book is doing well to sell 5,000 copies, and 15,000 is a bestseller. But that's through ordinary distribution and marketing, not counting in-house museum stores.)
At any rate, it's sold out at The Book Depository, but both Amazon.com and Amazon U.K. are still accepting orders for delivery in up to three weeks. Your chance has not passed.
*P.S. There's nothing remotely "vile" about them. "Vile Rumors" was the title of Jean Lindamood Jennings' column for Automobile magazine and the trope just jumped to mind. (The rumors she discussed weren't vile, either.)
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Original contents copyright 2012 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Jeffrey Goggin: "I've actually spent some time researching this matter and in my opinion, an 'ordinary photo book' that sells 5,000 copies has done far better than just well, as the typical press run for photo books these days is more like 1,500 copies, with many runs being closer to 1,000 copies than 2,000 copies.
"In fact, if one wants a first-edition copy of a photo book, the general rule one should follow is to buy a copy from the very first bookseller who can deliver it, because for many in-demand books, there may not be a second chance. I've learned this lesson myself, especially when ordering (and pre-ordering!) books at a discount through Amazon, because they sometimes won't receive enough copies to fill their pending orders and by the time they let me know, it's too late to buy a copy elsewhere without paying a premium for it.
"P.S. It appears I was one of the lucky 166, although I also paid the $23.10 price...you win some, you lose some, eh?"
Mike replies: Well, that's true, in general. I meant a successful book, in the sense that a successful novel will sell 100k copies—that's far below bestseller level, but far above average. I guess I shouldn't have said "ordinary." But for a major issue of an important title by a name photographer, I think 3,000–5,000 would be more the norm. The wild card for me is that I have no idea how much better a title will sell through being featured in museum stores. I assume MoMA books sell well at MoMA stores, but I have no way to know. At the very least, they have a good reason to print more copies, because presumably they'd like to have the book available in their stores for a good stretch of time.
I've written before about the vagaries of timing. A book collector friend of mine contacted me some time after the Vivian Meier book came out, needing to find a first edition; he was already having trouble locating one. And he's been a book dealer, and really knows the trade. I sent him mine. Other times (as I'm sure you know, Jeff) one can move heaven and earth to acquire a copy of a certain title and then, out of the blue, it'll be reprinted and all over the place.
Not long after his book Lonesome Dove came out, I ran into Larry McMurtry in the local deli (this in Washington, D.C.), and after chatting for a while I asked him if he would inscribe a copy for me. I hadn't bought it yet at the time, and when I went—unconcerned—to find one, all the firsts had vanished and gone. Whoops. And it had only been out a month or two, is my recollection.
The strategic buying of books makes picking stocks look easy (although that's glib of me to say, since I don't pick stocks).Featured Comment by Paul Richardson: "Stange coincidence department: I ordered this the other day, and it arrived yesterday. So did a visitor from Vancouver, Canada, who brought me a gift, in the form of—American Photographs. He handed it to me not fifteen minutes after I'd opened the box from Amazon, just as I was about to show the book to him."