Years and years ago, before I was a buyer, I have this memory of us carrying and promoting an art book that cost more than $300. I'm pretty sure it was about the art collection at the Hermitage, but I remember nothing else.
I'm not sure we could sell art books back then, but those kinds of expensive books are certainly hard to sell now. There's the double bind--folks don't quite collect them the way they used to and our section gets beaten up by browsers. If we do keep carrying these kinds of books, I think we're going to go back the old system of keeping the expensive ones off the floor and yet accessible. I haven't figured out the model yet.
Interestingly enough, we seem to have less resistance with cookbooks. I think it's in part that they are less heavily browsed, and seem to have some sort of utility (that is, you can cook with them). For example, we've sold three copies of David Thompson'sThaiStreet Food without promoting it and it costs $60. That's pretty good for us.
But that's nothing! What about a book that costs $625? Can you believe that I convinced Jason to buy this?
It's Nathan Myhrvold's magnum opus, Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking. I think as a buyer I don't think I could have done this. I didn't know my customers well enough, and I didn't feel like it was fair to the Schwartz finances to invest our inventory dollars this way. Most of all, I probably would have not put the book at every store, which would have left me playing favorites, a situation I hated being in.
But we're one store and I have no one to answer to but myself for making the error. Plus you've probably figured out, with my recommendations ofLife, On the Line, and The Sorcerer's Apprentices, that I love this stuff. And then I read this in the Washington Post:
“The future of food is here, and it weighs 50 pounds. more than 2,400 pages, it is the answer to everything you wanted to know about cooking, not to mention so many things you never thought about. It is the second most important book on food and the science of cooking (after Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking) and the most important book ever published on what the authors call modernist cooking. Nathan Myhrvold's eagerly awaited Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking lives up to the hype, and then some.”
--Andreas Viestad, Washington Post
And then this in the New York Times. And mind you, Myrvold was unhappy with this review and wrote a rebuttal. Seemed pretty good to me!
“Modernist Cuisine is not for most home cooks. For the professional chef, modernist or not, it will be an invaluable reference. For the cooking geek with $625 to spare, it will be endless fun. As a physical object it is remarkable; sometimes I found myself simply staring at the block of books.”
--Michael Ruhlman, The New York Times
With this kind of attention, and knowing my customers the way I do, I'm convinced we have at least two people out there who would be interested. And it doesn't hurt that the A word is often out of stock on the title. The second printing is releasing slowly.
The list price on the book is $625.
We're selling it for $550.
Alas, due to the low margin, the book does not qualify for Boswell Benefits.
Modernist Cuisine is available for viewing by appointment only, and because of the special nature of this book, it is sold nonreturnable. That's why our only copy on the floor (yes, I actually bought two of them) is kept in its shipping box. I can't have a customer come back to me saying a page was ripped and it came that way. The way the book is being released, I'm pretty sure that each copy is hand-inspected.
Yes, this book is so hot that we positioned by one of the fire extinguishers.
We also have a brochure somewhere, but we seem to have misplaced it. I'm hoping our pal Carrie can send me a replacement.
Are you a serious collector who'd like to view the copy with me? Please email me and we'll set something up.
It's a risk for us, but it's also very exciting. You can read more about Modernist Cuisine on their website.